Basque radical left refuses to view Otegi's sentence as a stumbling block

'Abertzale' continues on its electoral roadmap to outdo the PNV nationalists in November

Despite last week's conviction of longtime Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi, the Basque abertzale radical left appears to be even more adamant in gaining a stronger political foothold in Basque Country and Navarre come November, hoping to even outdo its own historic election sweep in local elections last May.

Otegi's 10-year-sentence, handed down on Friday by the High Court for belonging to an armed group and attempting to rebuild an outlawed party, didn't take the abertzale leadership by surprise.

Otegi, according to close sources, had ordered from his jail cell that once his sentence was handed down, a statement signed by him would be published calling on the abertzale militants to continue with their campaign strategy for the upcoming November 20 general elections. That roadmap, which includes the rejection of violence and was massively approved in February 2010, gave the radical left their best results ever in the municipal and provincial elections on May 22 through the legal Bildu coalition with Eusko Alternatiba (EA) and Alkartasuna.

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And with the agreement in August, between Aralar and Bildu, the abertzale left believes its can wrest yet more power and influence from the conservative Basque Nationalist Party (PNV).

It was under these conditions set by Otegi that, according to abertzale sources, Bildu issued its statement on Friday reaffirming the irreversibility of its commitment to an end to ETA terrorist violence despite Otegi's conviction in the so-called Bateragune case.

At this moment, Basque pro-independence supporters believe that not only replacing the PNV as the region's major political force is a realistic goal, but also forming their own parliamentary group in Congress with five members (two from Gipuzkoa and three from Bizkaia, Álava and Navarre). Hence, Otegi's sentence has not altered the abertzale's objectives.

The abertzale is also working hard to get its own party, Sortu, legalized before November. Sortu, which was organized in February and grouped many members from the outlawed Batasuna party, was prohibited from fielding candidates in May just weeks before the race. The abertzale quickly came up with Bildu, which was also challenged by prosecutors, but in the end its legality was upheld by the Constitutional Court. Another goal is trying to obtain a reversal of the "Parot doctrine," the hardline court sentencing guideline for ETA prisoners that eliminates all leniency policies and forces them to serve out their full sentence.

By obtaining those two goals, the abertzale believes that it can push ETA to issue its long-awaited final statement announcing its definitive break-up and a verifiable ceasefire.

Still, Bildu finds itself in a sticky situation. Some of the justices on the Constitutional Court, who voted in favor of legalizing the coalition two days before the May 22 elections, have come under intense scrutiny by the conservative Popular Party (PP) and some rightwing analysts in the media.

At the same time, some Bildu office holders, most notably Martin Garitano, the provincial administrator in Gizpuzkoa, instead of helping to contribute to reaffirm the coalition's anti-violence stance, have angered terrorism victims' associations by showing favoritism to the families of ETA prisoners. It was well-known among abertzale leaders that Garitano's actions had angered Otegi and Rafael Díez Usabiaga, another longtime radical left leader, who was also convicted and sentenced on Friday in the Bateragune case.

Pello Urizar, the EA secretary general, on Sunday also reaffirmed the radical left's willingness to continue on the roadmap toward November. Speaking at the celebration ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the party's bylaws, Urizar said that Friday's convictions against Otegi and four others "does not help, but does not block the process. It is just a nuisance."

Otegi and Díez Usabiaga, the former secretary general of the radical left union LAB, who was also given 10 years, are expected to appear before the High Court on Monday to be hear the formal reading of their sentences before being sent to prison. On Saturday, thousands of people took to the streets in San Sebastián, whose mayor belongs to the Bildu coalition, to march in support of jailed ETA prisoners.

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