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Basque Terrorists Lay Down Arms, Again

Basque Terrorists Lay Down Arms, Again

Photo Credit: AP

Since 1959, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna [ETA] has waged a violent campaign for Basque independence from Spain and France. The body count since the first murder in 1968 stands at 829. On October 20, ETA announced an end to its paramilitary activities in a statement that read in part, “ETA has decided on the definitive cessation of its armed activity. ETA makes a call to the governments of Spain and France to open a process of direct dialogue which has as its aim the resolution of the consequences of the conflict and thus the conclusion of the armed conflict. With this historic declaration, ETA demonstrates its clear, firm and definitive purpose.”

This declaration comes one month before Spaniards go to the polls to elect a new government. The outgoing Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has ruled out negotiations; Defense Minister Carme Chacon said on Spanish TV that there is “nothing to negotiate with ETA”. The likely winner of the election, Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party, is not likely to be any more forgiving.

The cessation of violence by ETA follows a self-styled peace conference led by former UN boss Kofi Annan and Northern Irish politician Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein (and the Irish Republican Army, some say – interestingly both ETA and the IRA received money, equipment and training from Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi, who laid down his arms in a much different way this week) . The global great and good asked ETA to stop the violence as a way to let ETA change its policy with a fig-leaf of dignity. “ETA’s statement is in response to the request from the international figures who’ve asked ETA to finish the violence, not the Spanish government,” Basque newspaper editor Martxelo Otamanedi told the press. “ETA will find it easier to finish if they ask,” he says.

However, we have been here before. ETA announced it was stopping its bombing and shooting campaigns in 1989 and again in 1996. There was an “indefinite ceasefire” in 1998, which lasted about 14 months. A “permanent ceasefire” lasted about 9 months starting in 2006.

What some believe makes this time different is the success of Spanish and French officials in putting the hard men of ETA in jail. Along with the banning of the political wing ETA, known as Batasuna, in 2003, this crackdown has effectively decapitated ETA’s active terror units.

Whether the Basque country remains part of Spain and France or whether it achieves greater autonomy or outright independence may now be in the hands of democratically elected individuals, where it should have been all along. Perhaps when Spain was under Franco’s fascist rule, ETA could make a case that armed violence against the state was the only way to pursue any legitimate goal. However, the Generalissimo has been dead for 35 years, and Spain’s democracy is well-entrenched.

I’d like to believe that it is over. But I am afraid I agree with Alfonso Sanchez, who still has shrapnel buried in his body from a 1985 bomb attack on his police minibus and who told the media, “ETA says it’s laying down its arms. But if the next government doesn’t give them what they want they can go back to killing. It’s what they’ve done for 50 years. They have to hand in their weapons, dissolve, and hand over their assassins to face justice. And they should ask pardon from their victims for all the harm they have caused.”



Jeff Myhre

Jeff Myhre is a graduate of the University of Colorado where he double majored in history and international affairs. He earned his PhD at the London School of Economics in international relations, and his dissertation was published by Westview Press under the title The Antarctic Treaty System: Politics, Law and Diplomacy. He is the founder of The Kensington Review, an online journal of commentary launched in 2002 which discusses politics, economics and social developments. He has written on European politics, international finance, and energy and resource issues in numerous publications and for such private entities as Lloyd's of London Press and Moody's Investors Service. He is a member of both the Foreign Policy Association and the World Policy Institute.