Spain: ETA’s disarmament
Spanish government must address issue of early prisoner release
The announcement that the Basque terrorist group Eta will finally put its arms beyond use, more than six years after it declared a unilateral “permanent and general ceasefire”, is welcome though it remains to be seen exactly how this process will take place. If total disarmament is followed by the formal dissolution of the group, this will bring a long-overdue close to a bloody conflict. Even its supporters now recognise that Eta’s violence failed to advance its political goal -- an independent, socialist Basque state -- but cost more than 800 lives.
Indeed, it is significant that support for explicitly pro-independence options in Basque elections has soared, from less than 10 per cent when Eta’s terrorist campaign resumed after the 2006/7 peace process collapsed, to almost 25 per cent after the 2011 ceasefire. Eta had enjoyed quite widespread Spanish and international sympathy when it began its armed campaign against the hated Franco dictatorship, and was very popular in the Basque Country during this period. But this turned to revulsion among Spanish democrats as Eta intensified its attacks when Spain became a democracy and the Basque Country achieved significant self-government.
Eta retained substantial local support, boosted by often violent and indiscriminate repression, including torture, and the use of death squads, unleashed by the Spanish state. But since 2007, the group’s political allies have worked steadily to persuade its discredited military leadership to end all violence, without receiving any concessions from the state. The response of the governing right-wing Partido Popular (PP), and the highly politicised judiciary, to the total cessation of violence since 2011 has at times been bizarre.
Eta has now said that it will turn over its remaining arsenals to the French authorities, through civil intermediaries, on April 8th. If Eta keeps its word, it is time the Spanish government learned the wisdom of generosity and found the courage to engage positively with the biggest legacy issue of the conflict: the thorny problem of early prisoner release.