The prisoner collective of terrorist group ETA, which represents more than 500 inmates from the Basque separatist organization, released a taped statement on Saturday recognizing the legality of Spain’s penitentiary system, expressing its agreement for individual prisoners to negotiate individual early release terms, and rejecting the violence and “suffering and multilateral damage caused” by their terror campaign.
Via the video, which was released through the newspaper Berria, ETA is taking a key step in terms of its disbanding, two years after it announced a definitive ceasefire, and just two months after the so-called Parot Doctrine was annulled by the European Court of Human Rights, which paved the way for the release of 10 percent of the ETA prisoners who were still behind bars.
The statement, which was peppered with the usual rhetoric of the group in its first section, responds to the requests made seven months ago by the Foro Social - or Social Forum, consisting of the Basque pacifist organization Lokarri and a number of other international conflict resolution organizations - to assume the legality of the penitentiary system and thus unfreeze the situation of many prisoners. The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was not willing to make any moves - neither transferring ETA prisoners to jails in the Basque Country, closer to their relatives, nor improving the conditions under which they are incarcerated - while ETA was unwilling to recognize the validity of the prisons system nor take steps toward its dissolution
After the Social Forum, in June and July, lawyer Iñigo Iruin and the head of the Basque abertzale radical left, Fernando Barrena, also called on the ETA prisoner collective to recognize the legality of the prisons system. Previously, the abertzale was legalized and permitted to run in elections by openly rejecting terrorism. The objective now is for ETA prisoners to achieve penitentiary benefits and apply for early release by doing the same.
The statement adheres to the guidelines set out by the Social Forum and by the abertzale left. The third point acknowledges the damage caused to the victims of terrorism. “We recognize with complete honesty the suffering and multilateral damage caused,” it states. The fourth point includes the rejection of terrorism. “From now on we accept the new scenario after the definitive end to violence,” the statement says, adding that: “We reject the employment of the methods used in the past.”
The sixth and seventh points of the statement accept the legality of Spain’s prisons and the individual reinsertion of ETA inmates. “We can accept […] that this takes place using legal channels, even when this implicitly means for us the acceptance of our sentences. We share the view that both the law and its application carry with them an essential function with a view to the future, given that they must be used to strengthen the steps that need to be taken.” The statement adds: “We are prepared to study and examine the possibility that the process which will end with our return home takes place on a step-by-step basis, via individual commitments and in a prudent timeframe.”
By assuming these commitments, ETA is adhering to the requisites demanded by the so-called Vía Nancares, so that inmates can enjoy penitentiary benefits. The Vía was set in motion by the government of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, after a failed process of dialogue with ETA in 2006. Sources close to Zapatero on Saturday called the step taken by the ETA prisoners collective as “highly significant,” given that it “adds value to the definitive ceasefire announced by ETA on October 20, 2011.”
To reach this point, ETA’s prisoners’ collective has had to digest the fact that the Rajoy government was not prepared to negotiate any solutions with the terrorist group, and that there was not going to be a peace agreement for the inmates. It has also taken into account the tensions caused by the freeing of 60 ETA prisoners in the wake of the Strasbourg ruling on the Parot doctrine, which caused outrage among many sections of Spanish society.
At the outset of last year, the ETA prisoners’ collective held a debate on the issue of accepting the legitimacy of the prisons system and individual reinsertion of inmates. In the end, they decided to call for an amnesty. But now the reality of the situation has been taken into account – even in the most hardline section of ETA – and the unrealistic calls for an amnesty have been laid to rest.