Cenarrusa still stirs pot in Spain

Hard feelings linger for a former ambassador who clashed with the recently deceased Idaho Basque.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comOctober 10, 2013 

cenarrusa, capitol, funeral

Ander Caballero Barturen, a delegate from the Basque country, speaks to Freda Cenarrusa after a ceremony for her husband, Pete, who died on Sept. 29.

KATHERINE JONES — Idaho Statesman file Buy Photo

Pete Cenarrusa wasn’t yet buried when former ambassador to the United States Javier Ruperez assailed him as a “Basque separatist.”

Writing for the Madrid newspaper ABC on Oct. 2 — just three days after the death of the former Idaho House speaker and secretary of state — Ruperez said Cenarrusa “had not given up on his blind obstinacy against a constitutional and democratic Spain until the very day of his death.”

Ruperez ended his article with what Idaho Basques viewed as a highly disrespectful comment, writing, “As Mark Twain would say, not all deaths are received in the same way.”

Reaction came this week in blog posts, with Henar Chico writing that she “could not stand still” regarding the “defamation of Pete Cenarrusa.”

Mark Bieter, a brother of Cenarrusa ally and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, wrote a post titled, “In Defense of Pete Cenarrusa.”

“It’s a small person who sticks a knife into the back of a man who has just died,” wrote Bieter, a lawyer in Washington, D.C. “It was a piece written with venom stored up from an event that happened more than a decade ago, then just spewed out a couple days after Pete died.”

The bad blood between Ruperez and Cenarrusa began in 2001, when they spilled wine at a hot-tempered meeting at Boise’s Basque Center.

They argued about the origins of the Basque terrorist group ETA. Cenarrusa, who died at 95, told Ruperez the violence had its roots in Fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s assassinations and suppression of Basque culture. Franco famously had Hitler bomb the Basque city of Guernica in 1937.

Cenarrusa and then-Rep. Dave Bieter introduced a nonbinding memorial in March 2002, saying the Idaho Legislature “supports the right of the Basques to self-determination.”

Ruperez called House Joint Memorial 14 a “gratuitously unfriendly gesture” from a partner in the war on terror and likened its failure to mention ETA’s violence to “speaking of Sept. 11th without even referring to al-Qaida.”

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s office called Senate State Affairs Committee Chairwoman Sheila Sorensen, who delayed the memorial briefly for amendment. A deal brokered with help from then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig added language naming ETA and condemning “all acts of terrorism and violence.” (In 2006, ETA declared a cease-fire.)

Senate Joint Memorial 14 replaced the House measure and passed the Legislature unanimously a few days later. It retained the provision on self-determination.

Cenarrusa long supported an independence referendum akin to those that have failed in Quebec. Ruperez, who was kidnapped by the ETA in 1979 and held for a month, has called such a move “whimsy” and an attack on the “indivisibility” of Spain.

Ruperez wrote for ABC that then-Idaho Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes told him in 2003 that he regretted the memorial, “blaming it on the extreme ignorance of local representatives about Spanish affairs and the general desire to please Cenarrusa” as he was about to retire after a record 52 years in office.

Geddes, however, told the Statesman, “That is not accurate. I was happy to support both Pete and the cause he represented to protest an unjust government suppressing and persecuting the Basque people.”

Geddes said opposition to the memorial from the Bush administration warranted delay, but not abandoning support for peace and autonomy.

“When Condoleezza Rice called telling us under no uncertain terms that we were not to get into international affairs and leave that to her, it did raise a concern in my mind that we maybe overstepped our authority,” Geddes said. “But so what? The federal government does it to us all the time.”

However much upset it caused in Madrid, the measure had no force of law and didn’t change U.S. policy, Geddes said. “A memorial is like waving a hanky in the wind. It’s just a political statement. I’ll stand behind that — even without Pete being here.”

Geddes said he finds it telling that Cenarrusa remains relevant.

“I’m guessing that he’s pretty pleased that he’s ticking off the ambassador. Good for him. He did what he thought he needed to do to defend his heritage and the culture of people he had a great deal of love and concern for.”

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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