Capture of alleged Basque terrorist leaders casts doubt on 2010 ceasefire

Tue, May 29, 2012, 01:00

ANALYSIS:Eta arrest statements highlight differing strategies to ending Basque terrorism

THE ARREST of the alleged “military commander” of the Basque terrorist group Eta, Oroitz Gurruchaga, who was carrying a pistol in a stolen car when apprehended on Sunday evening, has sparked new claims that Eta’s campaign of violence is not completely at an end.

Gurruchaga was detained by French police about 90km north of the French Basque capital, Bayonne, along with his “lieutenant”, Xabier Aramburu, who was also said to be armed. Neither man resisted arrest.

Gurruchaga (31) only joined Eta four years ago, and the organisation he is said to lead has virtually collapsed due to police pressure and plummeting political support.

But the Spanish interior ministry said that the presence of senior operational Eta leaders so close to the French Basque country indicated that the group continues to recruit members.

This statement was widely echoed yesterday by the Spanish conservative media, which is generally hostile to any hint of peace-process-type politics. Conservatives insist that Eta should be treated as a purely criminal organisation. That means no concessions to its hundreds of long-term prisoners, nor to the handful of militants still at large.

Eta has been on ceasefire since September 2010, ending a bloody campaign for Basque independence that had lasted almost 50 years and cost more than 800 lives. In January last year the group declared this ceasefire “permanent, general and verifiable”.

“General” in this context has been taken to mean that recruitment and training has ceased, along with all terrorist actions, extortion and street violence. Eta’s numerous erstwhile supporters in both the French and Spanish parts of the Basque country have completely distanced themselves from violence, while continuing to campaign for independence. They have reaped rich political rewards for doing so, and any return to violence would reverse their advances.

Eta’s observance of the ceasefire has been generally endorsed by an International Contact Group, led by South African lawyer Brian Currin. However, the conservative Partido Popular (PP), in power in Madrid, insists Eta’s only option is unconditional dissolution.

Yesterday, the interior minister of the Basque autonomous government, Rodolfo Ares, contradicted his opposite number in Madrid, and said he had firm information that all Eta recruiting had indeed ceased. Ares is a member of the mainstream centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE).

He has been a tough-minded opponent of Eta’s terrorism and pro-independence policies. Ares and his party would like to see much greater flexibility from the Madrid government on the treatment of Eta’s prisoners and the harsh policy of “dispersal”, which scatters the prisoners in isolated groups far from families and friends. The Spanish left would also like to see an end to the banning of radical Basque parties once associated with Eta.

The PSOE is critical, too, of the continued jailing of the veteran Basque radical leader, Arnaldo Otegi. His main crime, according to the prosecution, is to have led political negotiations with Eta to persuade it to end violence.

“Like the majority of Basques,” Ares said recently, “I simply do not understand why Otegi is still in jail.” His statement yesterday highlights increasing divergence between political parties on how to manage Eta’s final phase.

The PSOE’s minority government in the Basque region was actively supported by the Basque section of the PP for its first three years, until this spring.

Both parties shared a resolute opposition to Eta. They shared, too, a hostility to the aspirations of democratic Basque nationalist parties such as the PNV. The Basque nationalists also abhor Eta’s erstwhile violent strategy but they demand recognition of Basque sovereignty. However, the Basque Socialists vocally criticised the austerity policies the PP is handing down from Madrid. This drove a wedge between the two parties, and their differing views over “the end of Eta” precipitated their divorce in the Basque parliament last month.

It remains to be seen whether the PSOE’s less rigid approach to radical Basque nationalism will benefit the party in regional elections likely to be advanced to next autumn. Assuming Eta’s ceasefire continues, it is the radical nationalists themselves who are likely to be the big winners.