Spain’s political parties split on how to tackle end of terror group ETA

Serious disagreement still exists as to the best way to create a lasting peace in the Basque Country

ETA members announcing an end to armed activities.Photo: atlas | Video: ATLAS
Juan José Mateo

Five years after the Basque separatist group ETA announced a “definitive end” to four decades of terrorist violence, Spain’s major political parties still disagree as to how much involvement politicians should have in the peace process.

Both the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the emerging center-right party Ciudadanos believe law enforcement agencies and the judicial system should oversee the dissolution of the group and the handover of its arms.

We need more victims of ETA going to schools and talking about their experiences Socialist Party

The Socialist Party (PSOE), meanwhile, has asked the PP to reactivate a prisoner benefits program for ETA convicts known as the Nanclares Way, after the penitentiary in the Basque Country where repentant ETA inmates were transferred.

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the left-wing Podemos and the radical Basque independence party Bildu, which includes former members of Batasuna – considered the political wing of ETA before it was banned – want politicians to “consolidate the peace”.

None of the political parties defend negotiation with a group that killed 829 people over 43 years, but they all have different approaches to what the next step should be.

PP: “There must be winners and losers”

“We are very aware that the story of the end of ETA will include winners and losers,” says PP spokesperson Pablo Casado, who believes there is no room for politics when it comes to dissolving the group. The PP blocked the Nanclares Way and has defended its decision to ban the political party Batasuna.

“We can’t sign a peace deal because there is no war – only terrorists who killed innocent people,” says Casado, who says it is not up to politicians to make changes in favor of the peace process.

The story of the end of ETA will include winners and losers Popular Party

“ETA has been defeated by a relentless fight carried out on the international, financial, political and judicial stage. But there is no proof yet that it is extinct. We won’t talk about a group which has gone out of existence until they hand over all their weapons, tell us where their arms caches are and issue a declaration stating they are dissolving.”

PSOE “Relaxation in prison policy”

Socialist deputy Eduardo Madina, who lost a leg in a car bomb placed by ETA, says Spain’s central government could reactivate the Nanclares Way, which created “spaces where imprisoned ETA terrorists and their victims” could talk. This program was a catalyst for positive changes in the Basque Country, according to Madina.

Madina also believes the Basque parliament’s peace committee could make more efforts when it comes to raising awareness about ETA’s reign of terror, so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

“I would also do more to get victims out to schools to talk about their experiences,” he says.

“One of the great lessons of the [pacifist organization] Gesto por la paz (Gesture for Peace) was the idea of the separation of violence and politics. There was no political purpose behind the ETA assassinations. It was totalitarian violence in a democratic society. I would push that line,” adds Madina.

Podemos: “We have to promote disarmament”

“It is up to ETA to disarm but governments have to promote the idea that this should take place in as ordered a fashion as possible, and with the greatest possible level of dialogue between different administrations,” says Eduardo Maura, a deputy for the left-wing, anti-austerity party.

“The Spanish Congress and the Basque parliament should take the lead in finalizing armed conflicts,” he adds.

Ciudadanos: “Legal pressure and social isolation"

José Manuel Villegas, Deputy Secretary-General of Ciudadanos, believes ETA members should be “treated like criminals” and argues there is “no political work to be done”. For him, the “judicial route” is the way forward, and that applies to the disarmament process as well.

“We have to push ahead with the strategy that forced ETA to give up the armed struggle: legal pressure and social isolation,” says Villegas.

“This is not a war with peace commissions and international observers – this is a band of criminals. And criminals go to prison in states where the rule of law applies.”

PNV: “We have create the right legislative framework”

“There is still work for politicians to do: we have to consolidate the existing peace. There is work to do in terms of seeking consensus among all parties so that this doesn’t happen again in our country,” says Joseba Aurrekoetxea, member of the the PNV’s executive committee.

The Spanish Congress and the Basque parliament should lead the peace process Podemos

Aurrekoetxea also notes the legislative framework needs to be developed in terms of rules for the foundation of political parties, as well as laws relating to the exclusion of ETA from civil society and the recognition of victims’ rights.

The PNV politician also dismisses the PP idea of “winners and losers” saying this “is not the way” forward.

EH-Bildu: “There needs to be a mechanism for disarmament”

The radical pro-independence EH-Bildu calls for political involvement on the part of ETA and the Spanish and French governments, saying they should allow for a definitive and verifiable end to terrorist violence.

“There needs to be a mechanism which allows for a successful disarmament,” says regional EH-Bildu deputy Julen Arzuaga.

“I am not saying there needs to be negotiation but we need to look at how to create a system with the participation of a mediator,” he says.

“The disarmament of ETA is still ahed of us. We still have to solve the prisoner situation, sort of compensation for all victims, and tackle the demilitarization of the Basque Country, which is the most heavily armed in Western Europe,” adds Arzuaga.

English version by George Mills.

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