Life Advice from Spain's Real Life Robin Hood

83-year-old Lucio Urtubia has spent his life fighting capitalism by robbing banks and forging travellers cheques.

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29 May 2014, 6:00am

Lucio Urtubia is one of my heroes. A famous anarchist (and bricklayer), he was born in Navarra – an autonomous community in Northern Spain. In the late 1970s, he made Citibank's stock price fall by falsifying travellers cheques. Throughout his life, he has participated in a number of other robberies and forgeries in an attempt to hurt the capitalist system. This has resulted in five international arrest warrants – one of them issued by the CIA. Formally, Lucio's career choice has been termed "expropriative anarchism", but I call it robbing the rich. 

He currently lives in Paris, at the Louis Michel space – which he set up in 1997 as a centre for the promotion of culture and libertarianism. He was on my mind the other day, so I thought I'd pay him a visit. His door was wide open. 

VICE: This place is so quiet. Many would kill to live here.
Lucio Urtubia: I don’t deserve it. I feel so fucking rich! There's a reason we come naked to this world and depart empty-handed, and it's because we don’t deserve anything. We can be good administrators, but that’s it. I’ve always been a nobody. The only thing I can say is that I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’m getting the unexpected at the age of 83. I'm not a believer, but it's like there's someone behind it.

You're not a dogmatic anarchist either, are you?
Sentences and discourses are for priests and politicians. To me, we all are what we do. Everyone should open their hearts and open their homes and avoid acting like an idiot. You should be generous, but there's no need to give it all away. In Spain,there's a saying; It goes something like, "all poor people are generous,” but poor people have nothing to give.

How do you see France, the country you live in now?
France has always behaved badly. They’ve been reactionary; they have mistreated their colonies and still commit atrocities. But at the same time, I love this country – as I love Spain or Navarra. Criticism is necessary in love. If you love, you criticise. I wish France, Spain, Navarra or the Basque Country were more revolutionary.

You say we must rebel, but we are constrained in many ways. Like you need to have a bank account or a credit card to be able to pay the electricity bill.
I don’t have any card. It’s my wife who manages everything for me. It is dangerous to boil everything down to details like having a credit card. I used to spent a lot of time with Jean-Marc Rouillan, who was responsible for the French revolutionary group Direct Action. He has spent 28 years in jail. We’re very good friends and I’m very fond of him, but I’m fed up with all his "armed struggle” nonsense. We don’t need anyone to lecture us on what we must or mustn't do. When the time comes, everyone will act as they see fit. These days, we must be intelligent above all else.

It seems that the word “violence” is banned in a democratic system. But there is always some implicit violence in politics.
That’s because when we talk about politics we refer to something we are passionate about, and passion is all about violence. It’s funny, because we don't have absolute freedom. We often lack the strength or courage to take small steps and yet complain about being too limited to take bigger ones.

What are those small actions?
Everyone must solve their own problems and nobody should expect anything from anyone. What a great idea it is to expect the Church or some idiot politician to fix your problems. Who’s going to help you? Nobody. In this world, you must fight for every single thing you want – show that you are capable. Some people get what they want and never do anything with it. That’s life. Others, though, are able to do a lot with very little. 

A sense of fear seems to reign when it comes to taking action.
If you do something wrong, you pay for it. We have reached a point where everyone knows a lot. We’ve been talking and talking for 60 years now. The only revolution we have carried out is being permanently disgusted. We must put everything we’ve learned into practice. We must not be afraid of disrespecting those who don’t deserve our respect.

I have been lucky to be poor. It helped me lose that false respect very quickly, but smartly. I’ve spent time in 10 different Spanish prisons. You have to bite when you can and act wisely. If any of the things I began to do had ended up going wrong, I would probably have stopped doing them. But, once again, I’ve been very lucky.

Tell me about one of those moments of disproportionate luck.
On one occasion, the extreme right burned down a small printing press, put together by some young people. It was called Edit17. After that incident, they called to ask me if I could get them a reinforced door. Back then, France was extremely rich and you could get anything you wanted. There was plenty of everything, and it was the opposite in Spain.

I was working on a building site at the time, and I spotted an iron door which was perfect for them. I went back to the site at 5AM and, with a lot of effort, took it out. But I couldn't put it in my van. At some point, a police car stopped next to me and one of the officers asked me what I was doing. I was still wearing my work uniform so the other policeman said, “Your boss could have gotten someone to help you out!” They were such idiots. Eventually, both officers helped me load a stolen door in my van.

Is there an art to counterfeiting?
I have always surrounded myself with people who knew how to carry out specific tasks. I don't know anything about photoengraving or drawing for example – I'm a mason. But I managed to get the material and to have things done the way I wanted.

However, no matter how well you fake a document, it will always have flaws. A counterfeit is made to cheat, to steal. They may be really useful, but they’ll never be like the originals. It’s a matter of choosing the one with the less flaws.

What are you most proud of? What's your biggest regret?
I don’t regret anything at all. If I had to start my life all over again, I would do everything the same way. One thing I am particularly proud of is standing up to a judge and saying, “Yes, Sir, I’m an anarchist because I believe in anarchy.”

Last time we spoke you were writing a book on the notion of "utopia".
Yes, I think I’ll publish it very soon. It’s about my life and the people I meet every day. I write so that I don’t forget anything that happens to me. Utopia means to be able to create with what people consider to be useless. Nothing is impossible.

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