[Marxism] ETA Declares Permanent Ceasefire
hooverm at scc-fl.edu
Sat Mar 25 05:41:19 MST 2006
A farewell to arms
Mar 23rd 2006
>From The Economist Global Agenda
The Basque separatist group, ETA, has declared a permanent ceasefire, marking an end to nearly four decades of terrorist attacks in Spain in which some 800 people have been killed. It is a significant boost to the government of Jos* Luis Rodr*guez Zapatero, which has long sought a truce with the separatists. But even if the violence is at an end, the tension between Spain’s centre and its periphery has not disappeared
IT WAS only on Monday that the Basque separatist organisation, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, better known as ETA, boasted of being behind nine recent (if low level) terror attacks in Spain. But by the end of the week, according to the group, a permanent ceasefire will come into force, marking the end of 38 years of violence. Just as the Good Friday agreement largely ended violence by the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, Spaniards will hope this marks a definitive period of peace for their country too.
The news was greeted with happiness but caution by Jos* Luis Rodr*guez Zapatero, the head of Spain's left-leaning government. He called upon the main parliamentary opposition, the conservative Popular Party (PP), to join him in the peace process. For his part, Mariano Rajoy, the PP's leader, was even more circumspect, saying he hoped to help the government “defeat terrorism without paying a price”, though he suspected that the ETA move was “a pause, not the renunciation of criminal activity”.
The two parties—and most Spaniards—seem to agree that the ceasefire is not the end of the troubles, but the beginning of a difficult political process. ETA, in a second statement on Wednesday, reiterated the permanent ceasefire, explicitly calling for “dialogue, negotiation and accord”, and called on the governments of Spain (and France, a bit of which ETA claims) to respond positively.
The news is not totally unexpected: ETA had moderated its attacks in recent years; it had avoided taking lives, though it continued placing bombs; and Mr Zapatero had long been seeking a truce. Last month he declared “the beginning of the end” of ETA. Several Spanish newspapers recently predicted a truce was imminent. Many observers had long expected the separatists to give up the use of violent attacks entirely, especially after the bombings of Madrid’s transport system by al-Qaeda on March 11th, 2004, when 191 people were killed. When Mr Zapatero took office, the same month, the separatists indeed called for dialogue, while refusing to declare an end to the armed campaign that had cost over 800 lives. In turn the government pursued a twin policy of cracking down on ETA suspects on the ground while talking about talks.
That, broadly, seems to have worked. On one hand, ETA suffered serious setbacks at the hands of Spanish and French police (reflecting improved cross-border co-operation). Late in 2004 its suspected leader, Mikel Albizu Iriarte, and another 20 suspects, were arrested. Then in May last year Spain’s High Court jailed two ETA members for a remarkable 2,775 years each, for plotting an attack in 2003. But at the same time, the government made progress in efforts to open peace talks with ETA. Spain’s parliament agreed to them, though only if the separatists would lay down their arms. Given the declaration of peace, such talks may now follow.
The human consequences of a peace deal could be great. ETA’s campaign of murder and intimidation had a much bigger effect on the Basque country than was commonly realised. To watch the promenaders strolling by the beach in San Sebasti*n on a spring evening made it seem the most delightful of towns. The locals said that, whether in terms of health care or the quality of the roads, life in the Basque region was unmatched elsewhere in Spain. Yet there was no other place in Europe where—until recently at least—an estimated 40,000 officials, magistrates, businessmen, politicians and journalists lived in fear of assassination. Perhaps 2,000 or 3,000 were judged to need bodyguards.
The political effects might be substantial too. First, the peace deal gives a boost to Mr Zapatero and seems to land a heavy blow on the opposition PP, which had refused to sanction any negotiations with ETA or with anybody who represents it. The PP’s hardline policy, calling for the separatist group to surrender unconditionally or be “asphyxiated”, sharply contradicted the government efforts. That left a traditionally bipartisan approach to dealing with ETA in tatters. The ruling Socialist party recently called the opposition “vile” and “cowardly”, while the PP accused the Socialists of “spitting” in the faces of terrorist victims.
Second, it puts more pressure on Madrid to tackle the problem of regionalism in Spain. Some conservative Basques may hitherto have been deterred from pushing for more autonomy for fear of being associated with ETA—such hesitancy may now vanish. The Basques, along with Catalans and people of other regions of Spain, could yet grow more determined to win greater self-rule from Madrid. Only in January a farcical situation arose with the country’s defence minister, Jos* Bono, ordering eight days’ house arrest for the head of the land forces, General Jos* Mena Aguado, who called on fellow officers to oppose a law giving more autonomy to Catalonia. The general was then sacked. As that incident showed, peaceful but forceful demands for self-determination can be disruptive too. If the threat of violence is gone, space may open up for a fierce political row instead.
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