ETA Terrorist Group Declares Ceasefire, Credibility an Obstacle

The recent announcement of a ceasefire by the Basque terrorist group ETA did not astonish the Spanish and French authorities, but rather revealed the weakened situation in which the terrorist group is now.
ETA Terrorist Group Declares Ceasefire, Credibility an Obstacle
BASQUE MOVEMENT: Participants hold a banner during the San Fermin Festival on July 6, 2010, asking for rapprochement for jailed suspected members of the ETA terrorist group. (Pedro Armestre/Getty Images )
Kremena Krumova

The latest announcement by the Basque terrorist group ETA that they were declaring a permanent, verifiable ceasefire in their struggle for nationhood was greeted with cool skepticism by the Spanish government. It was called “no news” by the First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba. (To read the reaction on ceasefire on the Streets of Spain click HERE )

It is not the first time ETA has announced a ceasefire—and on past occasions, the ETA has ruptured the peace without notice. So this time, the group will have to do much more in order to gain trust and credibility both with Spanish and Basque people. Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has demanded nothing less than for the ETA to lay down its arms and disband permanently.

According to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an independent think tank, ETA is weakening because of a growing gap between those Basques who call for violent resistance and those who advocate negotiation with the Spanish government. CFR says that ETA has been losing its popularity among the Basque people, due to its violent means. And despite the ceasefire announcement, PM Zapatero warned that the police would continue to pursue members of the group.

ETA, or Euskadi ta Askatasuna (Basque Fatherland and Liberty), is a leftist group established in 1959. According to figures from the Spanish government, it has conducted over 1,600 terrorist attacks and killed more than 800 people since the 1960s in an effort win independence for a Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France. ETA is deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, United Nations, and European Union. Its principal targets are police, prominent business people, professors, and journalists, although they have also executed random attacks on civilians. The most deadly were a string of car bombs in 1987–88 in Barcelona after it was announced the city would be hosting the 1992 Olympics.

Spanish and French security forces have united to crack down on the group. On Jan. 18, Spanish police arrested 10 people for suspected links to ETA, announced the Interior Ministry in a statement.

Ramon Zallo, a former ETA militant from the 1960s, now acting professor of audiovisual communication at the University of the Basque Country, hopes that ETA will change its ways, as leftist independence supporters have seen that “armed struggle does not lead to any objective, and damages legitimacy and social credibility.”

“ETA’s political organizations have been made illegal; some of its political leaders are in prison and risk having no institutional representation in the coming elections,” he added.

Zallo says ETA should issue new statements renouncing violence and act in such a way that the Basque political parties will be allowed to participate in the next elections. For example, the Basque nationalist political party Batasuna was outlawed in 2003 by a Spanish court, after proving it financed ETA with public money.

Earlier this month, PM Zapatero warned that ETA must abandon its arms or Batasuna must distance itself from ETA in order to have chance to run in next local elections.

At the same time, Zallo thinks that the prospects that ETA will just dissolve and hand over its arms, and even ask for forgiveness, is far “from this world” and is a “desire of those who do not want to deal with the problem.”

Next: Zallo calls it stupidity to hope such a thing
Picture shows graffiti displaying the logo of Basque separatist armed group ETA, and an ETA activist's head in the northern Spanish Basque village of Oquendo, on March 23, 2010. The Basque terrorist group ETA announced a permanent halt of attacks on Jan. 10, but was faced cool skepticism by the Spanish government. (Rafa Rivas/Getty Images )
Picture shows graffiti displaying the logo of Basque separatist armed group ETA, and an ETA activist's head in the northern Spanish Basque village of Oquendo, on March 23, 2010. The Basque terrorist group ETA announced a permanent halt of attacks on Jan. 10, but was faced cool skepticism by the Spanish government. (Rafa Rivas/Getty Images )

Zallo calls it stupidity to hope such a thing. “By definition, armed organizations do not commit suicide conscientiously or obligingly, or keep the prisons waiting.”

Nevertheless, Zallo says the ball is now in the government’s court, which has two options: First, not to take notice of the ceasefire—in which case ETA will return to armed struggle within one year, he says. Second, to remove the “stumbling block that hinders political construction of the Basque region.” In other words, negotiate.

The Basque country spreads across territories in northern Spain and southwestern France. In Spain, it encompasses the autonomous community of the Basque (which includes the provinces of Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa, Alava) as well as the autonomous region of Navarra. The Basque autonomous community has enjoyed its status since 1978. In France, the Basque country covers three provinces in the department of Pyrenees-Atlantique: Labourd, Basse-Navarre, and Soule.

According to an official publication of the Basque government from 2008, a total of 2,359,400 Basques live in Spain and 230,200 in France. The origins of the Basques are still a mystery. Their language is unrelated to any Indo-European language, so it is thought to have spread before the rest of the languages known today in Europe. Physiologically, Basques are known to have the lowest frequency of blood-type B and the highest frequencies of types O and Rh-negative of any population in Europe. They are skilled fishermen and boat makers, and have distinctive folklore, folk theater, games, music, and a peculiar light-footed, acrobatic form of dancing. These cultural difference are one reason the Basques want their independence.

In 2008, members of the Basque regional parliament approved plans for a referendum on more autonomy from Spain. The head of the Basque government at that time, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, said that 40 percent of the people in the Basque region want greater autonomy from the rest of Spain. He said that an open discussion on Basque self-determination would help stop the violence of ETA. The plan was denounced by the Spanish government.

Zallo says that since 1978, the majority of the Basque people have rejected ETA. After signing the Lizarra Garazi Accord in 1998, the nationalist movement also rejected ETA. The Accord was signed between the majority of Basque Country’s political groups, trade unions, and social organizations. The agreement established a plan for a peace process based on the recognition of the Basque Country as a decision-making entity. But the accord later collapsed, as the Spanish government said that it cannot negotiate with the Basques because of the terrorist character of the ETA acting as guarantor in the accord.

So for now, the Basques are between a rock and a hard place with respect to moving their aspirations forward. While many do not see ETA as the way forward, because of loyalty and allegiance to the independence movement, neither do they “want to denounce ETA in front of those who are opposed to Basque freedoms, nor break from it publicly,” says Zallo.

“They hope that ETA will make an honorable exit instead of being demanded [to do so] by the Spanish political class,” he said.

Next: Reactions to the Ceasefire From the Streets of Spain

Reactions to the Ceasefire From the Streets of Spain

For the last half-century, since 1959, Spanish citizens have been periodic victims of terrorist attacks by Basque separatist group ETA. In view of the recent permanent ceasefire unilaterally declared by the group, and greeted with skepticism by the Spanish government, what do regular Spanish citizens think about the prospects for a lasting solution to the plaguing problem? What is their perception of Basque separatism and the possibility of peace?

“Currently ETA is in the weakest position ever, with reduced financial, logistical, and operational capacity, full of infiltrating agents in its organization, and with increasing political pressure coming from [Basque nationalist party] Batasuna. It is also very likely that undercover negotiations with the government are be ongoing in the background. I think ETA will wait to see what happens with Batasuna, if they are allowed to participate in the next electoral campaign in the Basque Country or not—the most probable option. Then they will have to make the final decision: to abandon their ‘fight’ or to persist in it, breaking the ceasefire as they already did in December of 2006 by unexpectedly killing two people in Madrid.

It is important to remark that ETA members are terrorists, that is how they make their living. They cannot see themselves working in a normalized society, out of secrecy, or probably unemployed. Their only way out, once they will be ‘militarily’ defeated, is politics. Analyzing their last communication, however, it appears to reveal that they do not feel—or pretend not to feel—defeated yet, so perhaps a new police action would be needed to force them to lay down their weapons. Otherwise, the risk of a new attack will be always there, if only to justify themselves in front of their sympathizers.”

—Hugo García, 41, Telecom engineer from Madrid, Spain

“ETA has a tendency of gradually disappearing from the political stage and in this way slowly putting a halt to their attacks. At the moment, ETA is losing its footing, its power, financial resources, and public support, but above all, it is losing the meaning of its existence in a free and modernized society, which we, the Spanish, enjoy. The next step for ETA is to go on, but without political participation until they give up violence, threats, and most of all, its armed fight. If they succeed in giving up all that was differentiating them from democrats, they may establish a new political group, which will not be ETA. In the not too distant future, they may achieve an independent, democratic, and peaceful party, and gain back political representation and state funding.”

—Sonia Bargeño, 43, Financial expert from Madrid, Spain

“ETA is giving naked hope—this has happened before too. They promise all the time to stop the attacks and to look for new alternatives to defend their cause and interests. But this is one big lie. As ETA members are very weak at the moment, they need to gain time to reorganize their organization and arm again. Their final goal is to impose terror. I do not believe they will keep their word.”

—Carlos Joel Polanco Ventura, 30, Financial analyst, Madrid, Spain

Kremena Krumova is a Sweden-based Foreign Correspondent of Epoch Times. She writes about African, Asian and European politics, as well as humanitarian, anti-terrorism and human rights issues.
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