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ETA tries to take a new course

Basque terrorism inmates recognize the damage they have caused but remain unrepentant

ETA’s prisoner collective — but not the group’s leadership itself — has, for the very first time, recognized the “multilateral damage” the violence committed by its members has caused. In response to the Social Forum — the platform that, along with international mediators, is pushing for a peace process — ETA’s most hardline sector within the penitentiary system has also shown its support to ending the violence and the use of democratic means to obtain its objective, while at the same time finally recognizing the legality of Spain’s penitentiary system.

Accepting the legality of Spain’s prison system and supporting those ETA inmates who individually decide to seek early release under reinsertion conditions set according to the law are, without a doubt, important steps that break the terrorist group’s customary nature to question and abrade Spain’s rule of law. But it can also be interpreted as a consequential result from ETA’s acceptance — or at least by its inmates — that it no longer has any reason to continue to exist and is ready to take a new avenue of understanding with that rule of law, which until recently its members resisted.

ETA’s renouncement of violence must also be emphasized. It is important to bear in mind that the permanent ceasefire decision — which was announced in October 2011 — was adopted by a minority of ETA’s leadership and opened a debate inside the jails, where the majority of ETA members are serving time. Until now, no one knew what the conclusions of those discussions were, but Saturday’s statement confirmed that the inmates have adopted the decision.

It is striking that ETA overlooked a request for dialogue with the Spanish and French governments

But at the same time, the recognition of the damage the terrorist group has caused — although an unprecedented step — is not enough. Reflecting on the situation, the inmates, through spokeswoman Marixol Iparragirre — a former leader of the terrorist organization and daughter of a top member of the group, who is currently serving a 15-year sentence in France — accept “their responsibility for the consequences” of five decades of violence and extortion. But such an announcement could only be valid if it included a condemnation of that violence, which in this case has not occurred. Instead, the Basque terrorist group uses rhetoric to justify it. In other words, it is an announcement filled with loopholes, which demonstrates that ETA would be unwilling to undo the damage and express full regret. On the other hand, the government has been clear that any changes to penitentiary policies would occur only and when the organization formally disbands, or, at least, if the inmates demand their group’s dissolution. No such calls were made in Saturday’s announcement; not even a reference to any disarmament.

Among this chapter of missing components, it is striking that ETA overlooked a request for dialogue with the Spanish and French governments, something that the terrorist organization knows full well is only a pipedream. But the inmates did not resurrect this demand in order to add value to a new route that they deem to be equally valid: the Social Forum, which includes an international sounding board, one that is always essential to keep ETA happy when it comes to communicating its demands.

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