Reader's View on Pete Cenarrusa: ‘First Basque, then Republican’

October 8, 2013 

Following the passing of Pete Cenarrusa on Sunday, Sept. 29, there have been numerous testimonies of memories and affection for a person who has made a significant mark on the Basque community in the United States.

In this regard, I recall with great emotion the wonderful evening I had the pleasure of sharing with Pete and his wife, Freda, last February in Boise, on my first trip to the United States as director of the Basque government for the Basque Community Abroad.

Having followed the evolution of American politics for decades from the Basque Country, for me it was a chance in a lifetime to converse for several hours with such an outstanding personality who worked tirelessly from Idaho for peace and freedom of the Basque people he loved so much.

During this encounter we reviewed his extensive political career and a phrase that Pete used to define himself struck me so powerfully: “first Basque, then Republican.”

His deep interest in the peace and freedom of the Basque people began to take shape at a very early age. From his position as secretary of state of Idaho, Pete used his significant political clout to defend the cause of peace and freedom of the Basque people, in which he firmly believed.

Therefore, in 1970, he played a very important role in the petition for clemency of prisoners sentenced to death by the Franco regime in the Burgos trial. His firm convictions were reinforced during his first visit to the Basque Country in 1971, as well as in the next trips that he would make throughout his lifetime.

In his eagerness to collaborate in achieving peace and freedom for the Basque people, in 2002 Pete inspired along with Dave Bieter, at that time a member of the Idaho House of Representatives and also a member of the Democratic Party, a declaration which called for an immediate cessation of violence and recognition of the right to self-determination of the Basque people. This declaration was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives and the Senate of Idaho, despite the pressure exerted by Spanish diplomacy and by the administration of President George W. Bush. This was confirmed by Pete himself to the national security adviser of the White House, Condoleezza Rice, affirming his status as “first Basque, then Republican.”

Another episode in which Pete left his position on Basqueness clear, prioritizing it above all else, occurred in 2003, when he unequivocally supported the candidacy of Dave Bieter for mayor of Boise. Even though he had given his support to a person who was an active member of the Democratic Party, his backing remained firm, consistent with his principles and always striving for the good of the community. It should be noted that this support was decisive in the victory of Dave Bieter, who currently carries the responsibility of mayor of Boise for a third consecutive term.

The tireless work of Pete for peace in the Basque country became evident, once again, when a declaration he promoted was approved unanimously by both legislative chambers of Idaho in 2012, a clear gesture of recognition to him.

I cannot end this brief journey through Pete’s career without underscoring his constant support of the Basque language and culture, something that grew in 2003 with the creation of the Cenarrusa Foundation, from which numerous cultural initiatives are strengthened.

The legacy that Pete Cenarrusa leaves us is impressive, not only for the Basque community of the United States, but for all Basques worldwide. He will always be a reference for all of us now and for generations to come. It is in our hands to continue along the path that he laid out for us, and that we will do.

Agur eta ohore, Pete.

Asier Vallejo Itsaso is director of the Basque Government for the Basque Community Abroad.

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