Basque Country: ETA starts disarming, Spain ignores move

February 28, 2014

The armed group Basque Country And Freedom (ETA has made a significant step towards decommissioning the weapons used in its campaign for independence and freedom, Irish Republican News said on February 21. But the Spanish government immediately rejected the move.

The decommissioning by ETA of some its cache of weapons and explosives, drawing a definitive line under decades of bloody conflict, was confirmed by an International Verification Commission.

“We have verified that ETA has put out of operative use a certain amount of arms and explosives,” Ram Manikkalingam, the commission chairperson told a press conference in the Basque city of Bilbao. “We believe this is a credible and significant step.”

But the development was dismissed as “more of the same” and “theatrics” by the Spanish government.

Jorge Fernandez Diaz, Spain’s interior minister, told a press conference in Madrid: “The only thing that Spanish society, the Spanish government and the Spanish state are working towards is the complete dissolution of ETA, without concessions and without conditions.”

The Basque people have used armed struggle to win independence ever since the fascist Franco dictatorship violently imposed Spanish control over most of the Basque Countries, which straddle both France and Spain.

Since 1959, ETA evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a military group with the goal of regaining independence. However, ETA declared an indefinite ceasefire in 2011.

Madrid has said repeatedly that until the group surrenders all its weapon and disbands, it will not consider any move to improve the prison conditions for the hundreds of ETA detainees held in Spanish government jails. Most of the 600 prisoners are held in criminal facilities located far from the Basque country.

Tens of thousands of protesters have marched through the streets of the Basque Country on behalf of the prisoners, defying Madrid’s court bans. Recent protests have also been endorsed by two of the region’s main political parties as being for “human rights, understanding and peace”.

[Abridged from Irish Republican News.]


Unfortunately this was "theatrics" - the supposedly decommissioned weapons were taken away by ETA once the videos were shot. This was admitted by the "International Verification Commission" - or more exactly, 2 guys with a camcorder from a self-appointed organisation recognised by no one. It is important that progressive activists in Australia don't confuse the illegitimate and criminal actions of ETA with the legitimate struggle for Basque independence. This sentence: "The Basque people have used armed struggle to win independence ever since the fascist Franco dictatorship violently imposed Spanish control over most of the Basque Countries.." is particularly misleading. 1. The Franco dictatorship violently imposed control over the entire Spanish state, not just the Basque country. Prior to the dictatorship the Basque country had been ruled by the Spanish state in its various guises since 1520 and the part north of the Pyrenees by France since 1620. 2. The "Basque people" have not used the armed struggle to win independence since the beginning of the dictatorship. Various Basque nationalist armed groups have existed with various levels of political support amongst nationalist supporters (not all Basque people support nationalist political organisations - many vote for PSOE and the PP) but there has never been anything like a popular armed struggle to overthrow either the dictatorship or the 1978 democratic constitution such as existed in many other nationalist liberation struggles, for example Vietnam. The armed groups, of which ETA is the last, were small but deadly. During the dictatorship, in the 60s and 70s, ETA targeted mostly high ranking officials - they assassinated Franco's Prime Minister - and Guardia Civil patrols. After the 1978 constitution attacks on the Guardia Civil (a paramilitary police force whose idealogical content has whithered over the years but remains to some extent) continued. Then in 1987 they murdered 45 people in a supermarket in Barcelona, including children. They bombed a police station next to a school, killing 4 children, and then in the 90s and 2000s began to assassinate local councillors from the PP and PSOE elected in the Basque country, journalists, academics and judges in the Basque country as well as use car bombs to kill the police, killing standersby indiscriminately. The war between ETA and the Guardia Civil - who fought a dirty war orchestrated by the PSOE government in Madrid that also involved the kidnapping, torturing and assassination of Basque nationalists, supposedly memebers of ETA - has no place in progressive politics and has, as in all wars, resulted in the deaths of many innocent people. The continuous large demonstrations in the Basque country are calls for respect for human rights and an expression of nationalist sentiment and desire for independence, not support for ETA. Murderers belong in goal - no exceptions, neither for ETA nor the Guardia Civil.
The question is, do you support disarmament and a negotiated solution to end the conflict or not? Your description of the IVC as "2 guys with a camcorder from a self-appointed organisation recognised by no one" is ridiculous and deliberately deceptive. After declaring its permanent ceasefire in 2011, ETA appealed for a formal verification process, which was rejected by the Spanish government. That's the reason why the IVC was established - so that verification of the ceasefire and disarmament could take place in spite of Madrid's obstructionism. The IVC consists of six international experts in conflict resolution including Ronnie Kasrils, former South African intelligence and deputy defence minister; Prof Ram Manikkalingam who has experience in conflict resolution in Sri Lanka, Ireland and Iraq; and Chris Maccabe, the former political director of the Northern Ireland Office. Why would people of such high standing in the field of conflict resolution lend their names to "theatrics"? At every step since 2009, ETA's unilateral moves to end the conflict have been met with intransigence from the Spanish government. The latest display of this has been the reaction to the decommissioning move, when the members of the IVC were summoned to be questioned in court. Jonathan Powell, involved on behalf of the British government with negotiations with Irish republicans, last week described Spain's response to the disarmament move as "bizarre". Basque society want to see an end to the conflict - that's been made very clear in the demonstrations for a resolution, in the opinion polls, and in the last several elections where the pro-independence left won up to 26% of the Basque vote. The article above does not say mass demonstrations have been held to support ETA. The central demand of the protests including the demonstration in Bilbao in January with 130,000 people, initially banned by the Spanish National Court, was for the repatriation of the prisoners to jails within the Basque Country (instead of being held hundreds and sometimes thousands of kms away from their homes under Spain's dispersal policy). This is a demand supported by the vast majority of Basques from across the political spectrum. Those who genuinely want to see an end to the conflict in the Basque Country are calling on the Spanish government to engage positively with the overtures made by ETA - in the first instance to legislate in order to allow decommissioning to happen legally, and for the return of the more than 500 Basque prisoners to jails in the Basque Country. The response of the Spanish government to date has made it a laughing stock internationally - it is very clear that it is desperate to avoid a peaceful resolution.
The Spanish government is a laughing stock internationally for many reasons - the lack of engagement in a peace process with ETA is just another to add to a very long list. Obviously any sane person supports disarmament, regardless of the form it takes. Unfortunately this latest episode did nothing for the credibility of either the IVC, whose prestige lies entirely with the CVs of the half dozen individuals involved, or the unilateral disarmament process initiated by ETA - which is now widely viewed as farcical (check YouTube for the parodies) if not irrelevant. However it did serve one useful purpose - it exposed the even more farcical attitude of the Spanish government towards the peace process. The attitude of the PP government has only one cynical objective - the survival of the PP government. Apart from the depth of the economic and social crisis in Spain (500,000 evictions so far and 1.5 million households in which all members are unemployed and no one receives any kind of income benefit), continuing corruption scandals are undermining the hard core PP vote (just one example of which is the fact that the Prime Minster, along with the rest of the Cabinet, received monthly under the table cash payments, kickbacks - in some cases totaling more than 1 million euros, over 15 years) . The only way they can win them back is through their core right wing politics: religion, anti-abortion legislation and total hostility to nationalist politics of any kind. As far as the conflict goes, ETA has to all intensively purposes ended the conflict unilaterally through its ceasefire. The ETA prisoners in goal have complied with all of the demands made by the government, the last of which was accepting their imprisonment as legitimate. The return of the ETA prisoners to serve out their sentences in the Basque country - a basic human right, allowing visits and reintegration into Basque society - is a demand that is widely accepted not only in the Basque country but throughout Spain and is seen as a normalization of their status within the prison system with the same rights as any other inmate. My comment was aimed at the deceptive interpretation of the armed struggle and the history of Basque nationalism rather than the IVC. The response by the Spanish government to the latest gesture by ETA is motivated by the same logic behind the Australian government's willingness to trade the lives and well-being of refugees for votes in marginal seats. However it is the mass demonstrations in Basque cities and the political struggle of the nationalist left, rather than ETA's arsenal, that will defeat the intransigence of the PP government.

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