Chap. 1. Basques in America: Havana

Havana university ©David Quintas
Havana university ©David Quintas

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In Havana, we begin our tour of America and the mark left by the Basques there. From now on, we will travel across the continent on a journey of more than 20,000 kilometres from Tierra del Fuego to Newfoundland. With images by David Quintas and texts by Martín Ibarrola.

Havana ©David Quintas
La Habana ©David Quintas

The University of Havana. The lehendakari's spies

On the day he delivered his historic speech in the Aula Magna of the University of Havana on 11 October 1942, the lehendakari José Antonio Aguirre was well aware that Cuba was a nest of spies.  With the Second World War at an advanced stage, the island's strategic position had attracted the most colourful characters, including the writer Ernest Hemingway, who set up a convoluted network of clandestine informers and searched unsuccessfully for enemy submarines. What many did not know at the time was that the Biscayan politician was also part of the Basque Information Service (SVI), a vast espionage network dedicated to fighting fascism and created within his party during the Civil War. "When the liberty of all peoples suffers a breakdown, you, men of America, have an august mission. This is neither the time nor the hour for selfishness; it is the hour of effort (...) America's august, most august mission: to save humanity; to save, for humanity, freedom!". The nationalist politician emphasised his harangue with a cry he had already rehearsed in Bogotá: "May God bless America!".

Barra de Pintxos
©David Quintas

For the lehendakari, Havana marked the end of an intense Latin American tour, officially aimed at promoting the foreign action of the 'Government of Euzkadi', but which in reality was carefully organised by the Basque Executive and the Office of Strategic Services - the office from which the Central Intelligence Agency CIA would emerge. Aguirre was then a good ally for the Americans, as his discourse was capable of influencing Catholic public opinion and countering the influence of the Nazis in South America. During the tour, the SVI tried to recruit José Laradogoitia, a pastor from Urduliz who was nicknamed "José gezurrak" (the one with the lies) and who would end up playing a key role in the war of those years.

After being expelled from the United States for writing bad cheques, and in order to avoid imprisonment in Spain, the pastor pretended to have an ideological affinity with a barber and Francoist agent who was travelling undercover on the ship that deported him to Bilbao.

©David Quintas
©David Quintas

Havana marked the end of an

intense Latin American tour,

officially aimed at promoting

the external action of the

'Government of Euzkadi'

His ability to improvise led him to Georg Helmut Lang, captain of the Condor Legion and head of the Abwehr in Bizkaia. This black-haired, austere Aryan instructed him in the arts of espionage and entrusted him with an important task: to create an extensive network of Nazi agents in America. However, after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1942, he contacted the lehendakari's organisation and managed to change sides without the Nazis suspecting his treachery.

The case came to the attention of the ambitious FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, who requested his custody and employed him as a double agent for years. His colleagues called him 'Bromo' or 'Little Joe'. As David Mota Zurdo, one of the historians who unearthed the life of this character, reveals, "at the end of the war, Laradogoitia, this Basque shepherd, swindler and womaniser, ended up receiving a ranch in Montana with a large fortune paid for by Hoover's agency".

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©David Quintas
©David Quintas
Barra de Pintxos
©David Quintas

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