News from the Basque Country

Two years after ETA’s definitive ceasefire, sectarian policies and confusion are delaying a solution

This month will see the second anniversary of ETA’s declaration of a definitive ceasefire. The time that has passed since the announcement, combined with the interests of the Basque radical abertzale left, confirm that the decision was permanent. There have been no more attacks by the terrorist group, but neither has there been any surrender of weapons nor formal dissolution of the organization. There have, however, been persistent entanglements that are hindering any advance toward that disbanding, which in turn is a necessary condition for any rehabilitation of the hundreds of ETA terrorists still in jail.

The importance of this question to ETA is understandable, among other reasons because the majority of its members are now in prison. In this context, this summer a group of around 20 well-known imprisoned ex-terrorists took over the effective leadership of the organization by sending a circular to the community of ETA prisoners, setting out the strategy to be followed: bilateral negotiation with governments as a general framework, and rejection of individual renunciations of the group as a tactic to obtain favorable treatment in prison. This was in response to sectors of the radical abertzale left, which, after the failure of the attempt to negotiate in Norway with the governments of France and Spain, had suggested unilateral initiatives toward disarmament, and acceptance of the legal conditions for lenient penal treatment.

The leaders of the now-outlawed abertzale party Batasuna themselves once said that the surrender of weapons would have to be a unilateral decision on the part of ETA, which had agreed to transfer complete political leadership of the movement to the abertzale left. In the imprisoned leaders’ communiqué there is an apparent lapse in which they acknowledge the organization’s identity with its political wing: while saying that they have already admitted their “entire political responsibility,” they note that this responsibility “is now being shouldered” by the abertzale left.

Perhaps these chiefs consider that to admit the harm done, to beg forgiveness of the victims and to accept rehabilitation measures on an individual basis are steps that the organization, or they themselves in its name, cannot take. All the more reason, then, to do what is within their power: dissolve the organization and allow individual prisoners to choose their own path, or delegate this task to the abertzale left. But the latter must in turn take the course that it demands of others: helping to “heal wounds” by means of a “just peace” — in other words, acknowledging the injustice of the murders that ETA committed and condoned. How can a “new era” begin, while homage is still being paid to the killers? However questionable the recent arrests of members of prisoner-support group Herrira may be, there can be no question that justification of terrorism persists in abertzale circles.

In a climate that is ever more clouded by these questions, there is some hope in the agreement reached on Monday, by which the Basque branch of the ruling Popular Party (PP) has joined the pact between the Basque Nationalist and Basque Socialist parties (PNV and PSE) on economic measures, with agreements in other areas possible. This move brings to an end a 15-year period of disagreement between the parties that define the Basque political mainstream.

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