Eta declares its rejection of violence as a method

Public statement seen as serious move towards disarming and dissolution

José Antonio López Ruiz (right), Estanis Etxaburu and Inés Lopez give a press conference in the name of 63 recently released ETA prisoners, in Durango, Spain. Photograph: Getty Images

José Antonio López Ruiz (right), Estanis Etxaburu and Inés Lopez give a press conference in the name of 63 recently released ETA prisoners, in Durango, Spain. Photograph: Getty Images

Sun, Jan 5, 2014, 19:48

A public declaration by a group of released Eta prisoners in which they embraced non-violence and accepted the legitimacy of the Spanish penitentiary system has been seen as a major step towards the separatist group’s eventual disarmament and dissolution.

On Saturday, 63 former prisoners gathered before the media in the Basque town of Durango for the announcement by their spokesman José Antonio López Ruiz.

“We accept our responsibility with regard to the consequences of the conflict,” the statement said, in reference to Eta’s four-decade campaign of violence for an independent Basque state, which has killed over 800 Spaniards.

Those gathered had all been released since an October ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against a Spanish judicial mechanism used to extend their stays in jail. Among them were many of the organisation’s most notorious killers, including Mr López Ruiz himself, who spent 26 years behind bars for 13 murders and was freed last month.


Group’s U-turn
In 1986, Mr López Ruiz shot dead fellow Eta member María Dolores González Katarain, branded a traitor for accepting the Spanish system of sentence-reducing benefits in jails. But, on Saturday, the statement read by the former hitman agreed, 28 years on, with the line taken by his victim, marking a U-turn for Eta.

Although the declaration stopped short of apologising for Eta’s violence, the new stance is seen as highly significant. “The fact that the hardest core of Eta accept the political route and reject violence was the final step that this process of dismantling Eta lacked,” noted journalist and author Luis Rodríguez Aizpeolea in El País newspaper.

Saturday’s event came a week after a similar statement by a group representing over 500 Eta members still in jail.

Eta formally announced the end of its campaign of violence in October 2011, after being severely weakened by arrests in Spain and France. However, with the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy under pressure from terrorism victims’ groups and the right wing of his party, he has made no concessions and his administration has played down the importance of Eta’s moves.


Arrests continue
The “peace process” has therefore been virtually non-existent, bearing little resemblance to that of Northern Ireland. While pro-independence Basques have invoked the negotiations and international mediation of the Irish process as a model, the Spanish government insists no such procedure is relevant and arrests will continue until Eta disarms and disbands.

With Eta having failed to secure any of its main historic demands – such as a referendum on independence – it is now focusing on the more modest aim of improving conditions and sentences for its jailed members. Moving its many inmates who are in jails hundreds of kilometres from their homes back to the Basque region is one such objective.

Reports suggest Eta itself will issue a declaration in the next few days, increasing speculation it plans to disarm.