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In Spain, bitter rift over fighting terror

By Geoff PingreeCorrespondents of The Christian Science Monitor, Lisa AbendCorrespondents of The Christian Science Monitor / January 16, 2007



MADRID

Two weeks after a bombing by the Basque separatist group ETA brought a fledgling peace process to an abrupt halt, the government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is confronting political strife as vicious as any seen in Spain's three decades of democracy.

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Saturday, an estimated 200,000 Spaniards took to the streets to protest ETA's bombing of a multi-tiered parking lot at Madrid's Barajas airport, which killed two workers. But at this anti-ETA demonstration, unlike all others since Spain became a democracy in the 1970s, a major party refused to participate.

The center-right Popular Party denounced the protest as a government attempt to garner support for its strategy of negotiation with the group, sparking criticisms that parties are politicizing the fight against terrorism for their own benefit ahead of upcoming local and national elections.

"It's every Spaniard's civic duty to support the victims and show we're united against violence and terrorism," said Martín Moreno, a computer consultant marching Saturday with his 9-year-old daughter, Sara. "It seems that opposing the government is more important to the Popular Party than fighting ETA, and that's terrible, just terrible. With that attitude, we all lose."

When three hooded ETA members appeared on a videotape aired on Basque television in March to declare a "permanent" cease-fire, many Spaniards harbored cautious optimism that 40 years of separatist violence might finally end. ETA had not launched a fatal attack in over three years, and this, along with the government's own assessment of the group's intentions, led Mr. Zapatero to request and receive permission from Parliament to begin discussions. Although negotiations appeared to have stalled in recent months, the prime minister himself declared on Dec. 29 that within a year the ETA situation would be "better than where we are today."

The following day's bombing, ETA's most materially destructive yet, dashed those hopes.

"I wasn't surprised by the attack," says Professor María Sagrario Morán, author of several books on ETA. "Things were happening, like kale borroka [low-level street violence and vandalism] and the discovery of the weapons cache in France, that also preceded the rupture of [ETA's previous] 1998 cease-fire. You could tell that things weren't going well."

Nevertheless, not all believe the Barajas bombing was meant to demolish the peace process. "In the past, ETA has always given advance notice that it was breaking a truce," says Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca, an ETA expert at Madrid's Complutense University. "They didn't give warning that the cease-fire was over this time because they didn't think the bomb would kill anyone. So they didn't think of it as a rupture."

ETA did place several warning calls about the car bomb, and police attempted to evacuate the area before it exploded, but two Ecuadorean men sleeping in their cars failed to hear the announcements and were killed.

Batasuna, ETA's political wing, told the press that it had not expected the attack, leading many to wonder about a rift between ETA and Batasuna.

"I'm sure that there's disagreement between them," says Professor Sánchez-Cuenca. "Batasuna has nothing to gain by the attack. And in these kinds of processes, there are always hard-liners and moderates."

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