Spanish government right to distrust Eta ceasefire

16 Jan

Since September there has been much anticipation in Spain of an announcement from the Basque terrorist group Eta addressing a permanent ceasefire. But when the moment came earlier this week the promised truce was met with little more than disappointment as the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero dismissed it as too heavy on rhetoric and too empty of precise detail. In their video announcing the truce, the three hooded Eta members made no mention of disarming or dissolving the organisation, which are two key demands of the Spanish government.

The video in which Eta militants promise a ceasefire

The Spanish are right to be sceptical after decades of ceasefires that have ended in nothing but further death and destruction. Since the 1980s after Spain’s transition to democracy, Eta has declared around ten ceasefires. Their ceasefire of March 2006, which they claimed would be permanent, was met with direct talks with the government, only to end in December that year when the group detonated bombs in Madrid’s Barajas Airport, killing two. In September last year, Eta announced an end to its armed offensive but the move was so weak the government refused to enter into negotiations.

With Basque elections to be held in May, it seems this latest promise of ceasefire was nothing more than a publicity stunt to boost the image of Eta’s political party, Batasuna. Before this party was banned by the Spanish Supreme Court in 2002, Batasuna won around ten per cent of the vote in local elections. It appears the best strategy for independence campaigners in the Basque country would be to end support for Eta and reform Batasuna into a democratically viable party; this way the party could enter into discussions with the Spanish government and perhaps, eventually, the European Union. The Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said on Tuesday: “Batasuna has only two options to return to political life. Eta either disarms or Batasuna separates definitively from [Eta].”

In Spain protestors demonstrate against Eta in 2003

There is no proof that Eta is widely supported in the Basque country, with most of the younger generation happy to be citizens of a tolerant, united Spain. The group has been without a leader since 2008 and its membership is split between young militants and old stalwart veterans. In military terms the group are weaker than ever before after a series of high-profile arrests brought about thanks to the cooperation of the Spanish and French governments. The latest of these, on 11th January, saw Iraitz Gesalaga, one of Eta’s top computer hackers, arrested along with his girlfriend. The government are now investigating whether Gesalaga has links with Colombia’s notorious Farc rebels. In police stations and airports across Spain mug shots of Eta militants are displayed and, in some cases, crossed out as each arrested, a sign the government are making progress against the terrorists.

Eta first formed in 1959 under Franco’s dictatorship when his autocratic, centralised government denied the largely Republican Basque people many rights, among them speaking their own language. Eta came about as a splinter group from the Partido Nacionalista Vasco, PNV, or Basque Nationalist Party as radicalised members of its youth movement opposed the group’s anti-violent stance. Eta’s full name, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, is translated as Basque Homeland and Freedom. Since their terrorist activity began in the 1960s Eta has killed around 850 people. It is acknowledged by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organisation.

The reasons for which Eta formed are now stored safely in Spanish history books. Although many throwbacks to Franco’s dictatorship are still present in Spanish society, Zapatero’s Socialist leadership has created a Spain that hardly represents Franco’s isolated, autocratic state. Since 1978 the Spanish Constitution has recognised the Basque country as autonomous with its own government and parliament that answers to Madrid on certain issues. The neighbouring region Cataluña has seen a similar, but less violent, independence movement which has succeeded in using democratic means to further its cause; the independence party, Convergència i Unió, now has a representative in the European Parliament. Against a backdrop of such political change, Eta seems outdated and unsupported in its violent methods. Let’s hope the government’s campaign against the group and their internal weakness produce a lasting ceasefire agreement which doesn’t end in disappointment for the Spanish people.

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