Eta announces 'historic' end to its armed activities


EUSKADI TA Askatasuna (Eta or Basque Country and Liberty) last night made a long-awaited announcement, which it describes as “historic”: its “armed activity” has come to a “definitive end”.

Coming after its 13-month ceasefire, this statement is widely understood to mean that Eta’s 52-year violent campaign for Basque “independence and socialism”, which has cost more than 800 lives, is completely over.

The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) government spokesman José Bono described the news as “a battle that has been won by Spanish democracy, our citizens, our security forces and our policies”. The party’s leader in the current general election campaign, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, said Eta was abandoning arms not due to any “sudden fit of morality” but because it had been totally defeated.

In strictly security terms, this is undoubtedly the case. The police have dismantled Eta’s command structure, and its capacity to carry out attacks has been very limited for years. But its supporters in the banned Batasuna party have somehow turned this weakness into strength. They have made a virtue of the necessity of ending terrorism, and, on the basis of the ceasefire, have built a new pro-independence party, Bildu.

This success made it impossible for Eta hardliners to further stall yesterday’s decision, and is also the best guarantee that the statement will lead to its disbandment.

However, there is a disturbing reference there to putative future discussions with the Spanish and French governments as part of process of “overcoming armed confrontation”. This could be read as suggesting that, despite its promise, this new statement – the sixth since Eta’s September 2010 ceasefire – is still, somehow, less than “definitive” about entirely removing the threat of violence.

This will be grist to the mill of the deeply conservative Partido Popular (PP), very likely to defeat the PSOE in next month’s elections. The PP sometimes sounds as if it sees a peaceful Basque independence movement as a bigger threat to Spain than Eta’s terrorism. Its response to last night’s statement was characteristically dismissive, and ungenerous to the government, which can legitimately claim to have achieved what none of its predecessors ever managed: the end of Eta.

The South African lawyer Brian Currin, who has brought insight and dogged commitment to this process, has been demonised by a Basque PP leader as a “mercenary for peace”. So the road ahead is still likely to be distinctly bumpy.

The language used in Eta’s announcement very precisely matches the declaration made by an international peace conference in San Sebastián last Monday for an end to violence and a political resolution of the Basque conflict.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, a supporter of the declaration along with former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and former British prime minister Tony Blair, among others, last night welcomed the move.

Still following the template of Monday’s declaration, Eta’s statement went on to call on the governments of Spain and France to open a “dialogue”.

This formula refers especially to Eta’s prisoners, of whom there are 559 in Spain and 140 in France. Spanish public opinion is mostly hostile to any concessions but the international conference, and human rights organisations, have pointed out that the punitive conditions under which they currently serve their sentences could be relaxed without any amnesty.

Eta’s statement offers no regret for the suffering it has caused, though it expresses “deeply felt homage” to its own fallen members.