May 16, 2022 5:42 am

Óscar Beltrán de Otálora: «Violence puts us all in front of a mirror»

Madrid

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Óscar Beltrán de Otálora (Vitoria, 1967) was for many years, as a journalist for ‘El Correo’, an exceptional witness to the ‘years of lead’ of the terrorist group ETA. Current director of Editorial Development of Grupo Vocento, has just published his first book, ‘Land of poachers’ (Destination publisher), set in his homeland and steeped in his experiences. Formally it is a black novel, with all its ingredients of tension, mystery, unexpected turns, heroes and scoundrels; but beyond that, it portrays a part of current Basque society, after terrorism but still very influenced by it, in which a type of criminality emerges that was previously covered by the shot in the neck, the car bomb, extortion , the kale borroka…

«In the novel we talk about the criminal world, specifically about what moves around a marijuana traffic that is emerging and increasingly dangerous», explains the author to ABC. And with that excuse he draws how each of the characters “faces violence and, above all, silence in the face of violence, which puts us all in front of a mirror that reflects us and shows us how we respond to it.”

Beltrán de Otálora’s reflection is valid for all of Spain, but the fact of setting the novel in Vitoria –also the story of some of the protagonists– transfers the years of ETA terrorism to the reader’s memory. “In this land there are many things to overcome; We have seen how, in the face of violence, some fought against it, others looked to the side and there were those who collaborated with those who provoked it… Now we are living a flight from the past, but we have to close the wounds in the best possible way”, he explains, and gives as an example the recent tribute that the association of ertzainas ‘Mila Ezker’ (A Thousand Thanks) has offered to his colleague Juan María Quintana, wounded and still with consequences of the attack of June 25, 1998 in which the PP councilor died from Rentería, Manuel Zamarreño, whom he escorted. A few years ago, something like this was unthinkable.

‘Land of furtives’ is fiction, but to build the novel the author relies “on the reality that I lived as a journalist. Like the forest ranger in the book, I’ve seen road signs with the name of one of these professionals painted in the middle of a target, and people who, upon seeing him, pronounced that atrocious phrase of ‘something must have been done’». The fact that this character in the novel is also a former escort does not cease to be a tribute to that group «which for years was key to at least pretending that we lived in a democracy here; Thanks to them it was possible to maintain an appearance of normality, and after the defeat of ETA they have been unfairly forgotten and they have had no choice but to reconvert as they could».

The Ertzaintza, how could it be otherwise when the action takes place in the Basque Country, also occupies a central role in the story. Through him you can guess how he had to change his orientation for terrorism: «She was born with the vocation of being a community police, in the style of the English ‘bobbies’, without realizing that with terrorism in full swing that was impossible» recalls Beltrán de Otálora. “At first I didn’t have armored cars or bulletproof vests, but ETA put her on the target and she had to adapt, which was traumatic for the Corps… He paid a very high blood price; he did not want to resemble the Police or the Civil Guard, but he had to do similar things ».

The ertzainzas of ‘Land of Furtives’ are like those of any other Police: «Many of them brave, others ambitious and prosperous, several unbelievers, some corrupt… The fight against ETA marked many, as well as national police and civil guards. Their work against terrorism created a particular way of seeing reality, of working, and after the end of the violence it has been difficult for them to adapt to other ways of acting.

Immigration is also very present in the novel: «In the Basque Country, as in the rest of Spain, there is no generalized racism but there are episodes and situations that show that there is much to do to achieve a real and effective integration of this collective. I wanted to dignify the figure of the immigrant, an immigrant in this case, and turn her into a hero… Most of them love this society as much as we do».

marijuana trafficking

This universe of protagonists revolves, as has been said, around marijuana trafficking, a very thoughtful choice by the author: «I focused on it because it is little known, it generates more and more violence and also because society is not even minimally aware of the danger it creates. It’s not a ’60s hippie thing; each time it is a more sophisticated criminal activity, which generates greater profits and Spain is one of the main producers in Europe. The mafias genetically alter the plants, first to have more harvests and therefore production, and second to make the drug more addictive, although this poses a greater risk that the consumer will develop mental pathologies, “insists Beltrán de Otálora.

After reading the 414 pages of ‘Land of furtives’, the reader is invaded by various feelings, but especially the feeling that the fight itself is worth it, whatever the result. Nothing more can be added without incurring ‘spoilers’, always unforgivable, but even more so if it is done with a vibrant novel such as ‘Land of Poachers’.

‘Land of poachers’. Oscar Beltran de Otalora. Destination Publisher. 414 pages. €18.90. –

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