How the militant ETA lost support among Basques
Spaniards are savoring the prospect of an end to ETA's Basque separatist terrorism. Basques have increasingly rejected the armed struggle of ETA, while still supporting other pro-independence groups.
For the first time in decades, Spaniards are savoring, some incredulously, the prospect of a country without Basque separatist terrorism, perhaps the only remnant of more than a century of political violence that has included civil wars, brutal repression, and a fascist dictatorship.Skip to next paragraph
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Spirits are cheerful, victorious even, but the realization of a long road ahead is settling in. Spaniards know that while a return to violence is unlikely, it’s not impossible.
ETA, which has fought for an independent Basque territory, has been politically undermined and become broadly unpopular in the past few years. The group might be defeated, but Basque support for pro-independence parties and demands for self-determination have not subsided.
On Thursday, three hooded militants announced a “definite cessation of its armed activity.” But the group, which has killed 829 people in the 51 years since it was founded and the 43 years since killing became part of its strategy, has not renounced its goal of creating an independent country out of two Spanish regions and a sliver of southern France that it considers the Basque fatherland.
The announcement came exactly one month before general elections, and included a call for France and Spain to open direct negotiations “with the aim of addressing the resolution of the consequences of the conflict and, thus, to overcome the armed confrontation.” That will inevitably involve resolving the issue of hundreds of jailed ETA militants and expanding on an already ample autonomy for the Basque region that includes separate taxes, police, healthcare, and education systems.
ETA's 'fatal flaw'
ETA’s dissolution and disarming are pending issues for the next government, which will take over before year's end.
Basque pro-independence parties have consolidated political gains in 2011, weakening ETA but strengthening popular support for their cause, a factor sure to complicate any future talks. The national and regional governments have already said any resolution will have to involve all the political factions representing the Basque movement.
“The group could splinter, but one of the most irreversible aspects of their decision is to renounce extortion, and without money, they can’t survive very long. It wouldn’t have operational capabilities,” Mr. Sánchez Cuenca says. “In effect, the military wing handed power over to the political wing, and that makes a return to violence improbable.”
However, ETA has a history of going back on its word, most notably when it broke off peace negotiations with the government unannounced – by bombing the parking lot of Madrid’s new airport terminal in December 2006, killing two.
The move proved fatal. The country’s leadership, and more importantly Basque nationalists, blamed ETA and turned their backs on the group. Four years of unprecedented police pressure ensued, with the help of France, and again and again the group’s leadership was jailed.