The arrests in France of Izaskun Lesaka, an alleged member of ETA’s leadership, and her deputy, Joseba Iturbe, have been declared “incomprehensible” by spokespersons for the radical Basque left (IA). They argue that the detentions are contradictory within a “peace process.” Other nationalist factions have accepted the arrests, but believe the government should introduce other measures at the same time, above all with regard to ETA prisoners. At the same time, ETA has informed the radical left of its willingness to disband if the government amends its penitentiary policy and offers those in jail a way out.
Until ETA disbands, it is absurd to think that the police will stop arresting the group’s armed leaders, who are suspected of controlling the terrorists’ arsenal. The experience in the 1980s of the dismantling of the so-called political-military branch of ETA shows the importance of securing these arms in order for its leaders to take the final step. In his recently published book, Basque radical leader Arnaldo Otegi explains that both within ETA and the former independence seeking group Batasuna there were two contradictory visions on bringing an end to the use of violence: those that conditioned the process to securing political agreements, with the terrorist group casting its shadow over any dialogue; and those who argued that abandoning arms should be a unilateral decision. Otegi also argues that the logical consequence of ETA’s decision to abandon its armed struggle should be the “dismantling of its military structures.”
However, the group, and at least a sector of the abertzale left, continues to condition this definitive move to reaching a prior negotiated agreement, a position the government rejects. If the abertzale left recommends that imprisoned ETA members comply with legal procedures, they should start by stating this publically, and likewise call for ETA to be dissolved. The chief prosecutor in the Basque Country said a month ago that the disbanding of ETA was the factor that would help improve prospects for the social rehabilitation of ETA prisoners, which, according to the law, is necessary for them to have access to prison benefits. He said the rule of law “will know how to interpret and apply the legislation in accordance with this new situation.”
The unilateral disbanding of ETA is, therefore, the starting point. However, the ghost of the Donostia-San Sebastián International Peace Conference continues to hover over this denouement. Those who promoted it hold that the government at the time, in not opposing the conference despite knowing that it was being prepared, implicitly embraced what was agreed, including the “consequences of the conflict” and subsequently its political causes. This idea, without any known basis, has been reinforced by the right, which has accused Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of having assumed the supposed commitments of the previous administration with the terrorist group.
It is correct to say to that the issue of jailed ETA members is fundamental for the definitive closure of the circle of violence. What could take place, as in the case of ETA’s political-military branch, is contact between the prisoners’ lawyers and members of the justice department, but not negotiations between the government and ETA. In any case, the disbanding of ETA is necessary for concessions to be made for jailed ETA members.