Portrait of anti-nuclear activist Gladys del Estal Ferreño

Irina Echarry

Gladys del Estal Ferreño

HAVANA TIMES — On the 3rd of June of 1979, a bullet ended the life of the young Basque woman we see in the photograph.

I have just gotten to know the story of this dark-haired girl who stares at us so serenly. Her name was Gladys del Estal Ferreño, and she had a future to look forward to. She had been born in Venezuela (her parents had left the country during the Spanish Civil War), but lived in the Basque Country from the time she was four years old.

Devoted to study, she liked chemistry and biology and worked at a small firm as a computer expert. Her passionate interest in environmental issues had led her to join several peaceful protests against the use of nuclear energy. She was a member of the Egia Ecological Group and the Basque Country Antinuclear Committees.

That 3rd of June, she had joined a protest gathering that called for the dismantling of a firing range and for the suspension of nuclear power plant projects that were then underway or in the planning stages.

Months before, an accident at the Harrisburg nuclear power plant in the United States had shocked the world. The anti-nuclear movement was at its peak in nearly all countries.

The Spanish protesters were against the construction of the power plant which was underway in Lemoniz, Navarra, and opposed the implementation of Spain’s National Energy Plan, which envisaged the construction of another plant in Tudela. This is the reason they had gathered in this city.

Only three years had passed since Franco’s death and any kind of public gathering was regarded with apprehension. The protest unfolded in an atmosphere of intense police surveillance. During a lunch break, the Civil Guard violently lunged towards the protesters, forcing them to flee.

A group of young people improvised a kind of sit-in at a nearby bridge. Gladys was among them.

Though many witnesses claim she was murdered, the official version of events insists she was the victim of an accident. What we do know for certain is that she was struck on the loins and, while lying on the ground, shot in the back of the head. One of the doctors who saw her said she had been given a coup de grace.

Officer Jose Martinez Salas, who had not hesitated to pull the trigger of his Z-70 rifle on the  young, unarmed girl, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The alleged “accident” brought about some changes. The anti-nuclear movement, which had until then been peaceful, would never be the same again: it organized larger protests, there was violence, rallies, strikes and even popular uprisings.

Thanks to people like Gladys del Estal, no nuclear power plant was ever built in Tudela and the one built in Lemoniz was never put to use.

She was only 23 when she died. How many plans, how many dreams had she left unfulfilled?

Reading about her struggle, I cannot help but feel rather ashamed. At her age, I was desperate to leave the country, immersed in petty, day-to-day concerns, unable to think about anything beyond my own, personal “survival.”

Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

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