ETA Ends 43 Years of Terror

ETA Ends 43 Years of Terror
El País: ETA pone fin a 43 años de terror
Luis R. Aizpeolea reporting from Madrid October 21, 2011

This Thursday, ETA announced the end of 43 years of terrorism which claimed 829 lives. The band made the announcement in writing and on video and disseminated it in the digital editions of the newspapers Gara and Berria the unconditional and “definitive cessation of armed activity.” The communiqué, read by three hooded people, spoke only of requesting “a direct dialogue” with the government to resolve “the consequences of the conflict,” that is, the legal statuses of its imprisoned and fugitive members in order to move beyond “armed confrontation.” This message, disseminated exactly one month before the November 20 elections, is a response to petitions made Monday by six international personalities at a conference in San Sebastián and Tuesday by the abertzale left.

But ETA’s statement is more precise and clear than the one made Monday by the San Sebastián Confference. Suggestions were made in that text, like the creation of a political party roundtable and a consultation, which ETA did not pick up for its text. With that, ETA sent a clear message that it is not going to change into anyone’s political tutor. It is only going to occupy itself with the future of its imprisoned; hence it did not mention dissolution. This not only gives unprecedented value to ETA’s press release. It is also historic because it’s a response to what political parties have asked for since the creation of the Spanish democracy.

President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero ranked the end of ETA as a historic moment. So did ex-Minister of the Interior and current Socialist Presidential Candidate Alfredo Pérez Rubicalba. In a brief press conference at La Moncloa, Zapatero, in an emotive tone, attributed the end of ETA to the efforts of all democratic governments and security forces, to international collaboration, especially from the French, and to the unity of the parties and Spanish society, with special regards to the 829 ETA victims of the last 43 years.

Rubalcaba also pointed out that the next government will negotiate the settlements over the imprisoned and fugitives, and he appealed for unity between the democratic parties on the matter. The leader of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, spoke positively about the end of ETA violence and attributed its end to political, judicial, and social pressure, which he judged as a triumph of the constitutional state. His stance is especially valuable considering the position of the right-wing media and the more radical sector of his party.

In its message, ETA said that the International Conference celebrated recently in Euskal Herria (The Basque Country) “is an initiative of great political transcendence” and that “the agreed-upon resolution gathers the ingredients for a comprehensive solution to the conflict and has the support of a wide range of groups in Basque society and the international community.”

ETA adds that “a new political era is beginning in Euskal Herria” and underlines that it faces “a historic opportunity to give a just and democratic solution to the secular political conflict.” In its characteristic language, it says: “as opposed to violence and repression, dialogue and agreement should characterize the new cycle. The recognition of Euskal Herria and respect for popular will should prevail over imposition. This is the desire of the majority of the Basque citizenry.”

But whatever ETA says, the people to which Zapatero, Rubalcaba, and Rajoy the ones who brought about the endgame of the long fight against terrorism. ETA’s previous political arm, the abertzale left, beset by political, judicial, and social pressure, turned against the terrorist band and accelerated the end of terrorism consummated by the announcement.

Last July 7, Otegi admitted in his statement to the National Court, which condemned him to 10 years in prison for collaboration with the armed band, that the the terrorist attack on Barajas Airport Terminal 4 on December 30, 2006, by which ETA broke the previous truce, marked the beginning of ETA’s political arm distancing itself from the group itself. The abertzale left’s separation from ETA as a consequence of this rupture to the peace process in 2006 was the determinant factor that accelerated the end of the terrorist organization, realized in the announcement of the definitive cessation of armed activity.

It was the final and definitive factor that contributed to ending more than 40 years of ETA terrorism, although by December 2006, ETA had already noticeably suffered from political, judicial, and social pressure. Otegi recounted in his declamation to the National Court last July that the abertzale left rejected terrorism because Basque society no longer tolerated it…

…President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero thought [in 2006] that the dialogue process would move forward because when ETA came to him, it hadn’t killed for three years; it had suffered from serious attacks by security forces who were more and more professional, the latest the arrest in October 2004 of its principal leader since the 90s, Mikel Antza; the abertzale left was made illegal by the Party Law which came into force in 2003, and it had already suffered considerable rejection from a united front of Basque democratic parties, nationalist and non-nationalist, and by a powerful movement of Basque social organizations against ETA.

This tide had been rising little by little since the Pact of Ajuria Enea in 1988, the first milestone in antiterrorist policy which initiated the social delegitimization of the terrorist group by a street movement in which nationalists and non-nationalists were unified.

In addition, at that moment in 2006, ETA already had a very unfavorable international environment, with al Qaeda terrorism in the spotlight and the IRA, the only European terrorist group besides ETA, in its last throes.

The government successfully assigned ETA responsibility for the failure of the dialogue and isolated the group internationally. After this lost opportunity for ETA, no country would ask the government to enter dialogue with the group again (as some had before). This resulted in greater international cooperation against ETA.

At the same time, the government, as opposed to its actions during previous truces, did not let down its guard in pursuing the terrorists: in 2008, the year in which ETA broke the truce during the summer, it took five cells who had been preparing to fight out of combat. The number of victims during the renewal of hostilities was one-fifth that of the casualty list the last time a truce was broken, in 1998… [abridged]

After the rupture of the truce in June 2007, Otegi was incarcerated. From prison, he began a process of reflection, with numerous consultations with nationalist parties, and he began to sketch out a project for a sovereignist front uniting Basque independentists and using only peaceful and political means. His project was looked down upon by ETA, which reinitiated terrorist activity with a dozen murders from the breaking of the truce in June 2007 until the final killing in July 2009.

The price which ETA paid for its regression to terrorism was very high. In one year, all its active cells fell, and four leadership groups were arrested in a flash. The political pursuit was relentless.

Otegi, backed by Rufi Exteberria and Rafael Díez Usabiaga, bet decisively on his sovereignist front project. In November 2009, which Otegi incarcerated again, the abertzale left presented in Alsasua and Venice the document Zutik Euskalherria, a strategy depending exclusively on political and peaceful means. They brought it to a debate with their base, and in February 2010, the abertzale left approved 80% to 20% to reject violence. [abridged]

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