Madrid — Basque terrorism - the Achilles' heel of the fragile Spanish democracy, and the leading argument of the plotters of February's abortive military coup - is at an all-time low.
The Basque guerrilla separatist organization ETA (Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna) has been severely set back by a more effective police structure under a unified antiterrorist command. Numerous arrests and police roundups have largely dismantled the terrorist organizational structure.
From January to November of this year there have been only 33 deaths resulting from terrorism. This is compared to 120 for the same period the year before. There has been a dramatic drop from June to the present with only five deaths.
ETA suffered a heavy blow with the arrest last month of a well-known feminist , Jimena Alonso, and her two teen-age daughters. They allegedly formed part of the crucial ETA information command in Madrid. The arrests stunned Spanish intellectual and feminist circles.
Two main ETA leaders were killed in a shootout with police a few days later while trying to flee to France.
The Madrid command allegedly had been gathering information on carrying out some spectacular action against the Army or influential Spanish citizens in an attempt to pressure King Juan Carlos to accept the need for a military government, which would supposedly provide a better ''culture medium'' for the ETA cause.
Legislation modified last year to permit the sentencing of ETA accomplices, collaborators, or informers only slightly implicated, has started to yield results. Previously, many arrests were made but four out of 10 suspects were later released. Now only two out of 10 suspects are released, according to Interior Ministry sources.
Marcelino Oreja, the national government representative in the Basque country , points to a growing social rejection of ETA - especially after the approval of the Basque autonomy statute last year, which has taken the wind out of separatism. The highly unpopular ETA assassination of the Lemoniz nuclear plant engineer, Jose Maria Ryan, last January has made ETA recruitment more difficult.
The less-militant wing of ETA, considered linked to the more moderate left-wing nationalist coalition party, Euskadiko Ezkerra, announced an unconditional cease-fire a week after the February coup attempt.
Nevertheless, just last week the same political wing announced in a secret press conference in the French Basque country that the truce was over and armed struggle was to be renewed. They claimed that the government has not come through on promises of freeing ETA prisoners with minor sentences, or amnesty for exiled Basques, among other grievances. But due to the many arrests, Euskadiko Ezkerra will need time to rebuild.
Doubts have risen, however, regarding the authenticity of the announcement, which was mysteriously denied a few days later by the ETA.