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Sunday, September 5, 2010

ETA-Spain negotiations clearly active

ETA has issued a new communication. It is available in original Basque language in
PDF and video format. A Spanish language translation is available here. A BBC "exclusive" video can be found here (at the moment is too busy to load but I presume it has English translation of some sort). The BBC also has an excerpted version of ETA's communication in English.

Still image of ETA's video

Introductory section

The first part of the communication is an apologetic synthesis of ETA's history, emphasizing its "responsible" role in rejecting the post-fascist arrangements made in the late 1970s and their strong stand for the self-determination of the Basque People.

Then they talk of the existence of a current "crossroads" situation, which they interpret in terms of "exhaustion of the autonomic frame":

The Spanish State is conscious of the Basque Country being at a crossroads, and that it can still take the option of independence. That is why such a fascist offensive. They want that the conditions of political change rot in the despair of blockade: deviating the political debate to prevent a democratic resolution and drown the popular will in this state of exception.
They seem to mean here the legal offensive of the last decade that has rendered many political and other popular organizations illegal, heavily distorting the electoral and media representation in the Southern Basque Country, and bringing many political activists to jail, often under fictitious accusations.

In this regard they appeal for the Basque actors and citizens to answer by assuming responsibilities and taking firm steps in favor of the organization of the independentist project, in creating conditions for democratic change (read "self-determination"), in response to repression and in the defense of civil and political rights.

Political change is possible. But in that journey there are no shortcuts. (...) Without confrontation, negation and stubbornness cannot be defeated. (...)

Negotiation and truce

At this point they reinstate their compromise with a democratic solution... through compromise and negotiation.

If the Spanish government has the will, ETA is willing, today as in the past, to agree the democratic minimums necessary to initiate the democratic process.
They make an appeal to the "international community", which, they say, are already informed of this, to support this process.

Then they inform that, already some months ago, they decided not to make any offensive armed actions.

[In fact it has been a whole year, with the last attack taking place in August 9 2009 in Majorca.Since then, there have been some kale borroka (street fight) actions (incendiary devices and such, made not by ETA but by irregular militant cells) and one seemingly accidental shooting with the French police near Paris but it was clear for any knowledgeable casual observer that there was an undeclared unilateral truce by ETA.

Spanish repression has only loosened in the last few months. Not too much but the lack of ETA arrests in the last few months clearly suggested me already by early summer that the truce had finally become bilateral, a clear sign of progress in negotiations].

They conclude with a repetition of the call to all Basque political actors to assume their responsibilities in order to produce solid steps as People for when the democratic rights are acknowledged.


The tone of this penultimate paragraph is suggestive of ETA having big hopes on this negotiation but myself, having watched many previous negotiations end with no results, I can't but be highly skeptic.

The international economic and political situation, unlike maybe 10 or even four years ago, is not the kind of situation that could push for a surrender of ETA with only cosmetic concessions maybe. In fact the deep and persistent economic and socio-political crisis of the West (and by extension Spain) is the kind of scenario that would support continued armed struggle in any case. You don't surrender when the enemy is weak, do you?

Anyhow, I do hope that the negotiations this time end up to the satisfaction of all. But I am highly skeptic because:

  • I do not see that Spain has any immediate need nor intent of dropping the fight against Basque rights (civil, political and the rights of self-rule and self-determination)
  • While independentist politicians may be in some "hurry" to get legally recognized again and hence be able to participate in elections normally, that is not what ETA nor their voters surely give priority to but to the persistence of the struggle, including armed struggle. So they won't settle for anything less than the legal recognition of the right of self-determination, what implies a radical reform of the Spanish constitution.
  • The ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) probably has not enough backing in this from the right wing (PP), which are the ones who really represent the Spanish state since fascism and who will probably and predictably boycott any serious concessions.
  • The social-economic frame is favorable to radical struggles rather than negative. A surrender of ETA is therefore not likely and, would it happen for whatever political or otherwise circumstances, it'd surely cause a schism and the creation of a new ETA.
So, well, my expectations are pretty much limited: a year or so of frustrating and mysterious negotiations ending up most likely in a return to "normality", i.e. the low intensity war I have known all my life. However there are some political elements that may favor a constitutional reform:

  • The situation in Catalonia, where independentism is very strong (and nearly all non-independentist parties would want at least federalism).
  • The weakness of Spanish economy (and hence social order) weights somewhat against Madrid risking to keep the Basque military front open.
  • The incipient formation of a Basque indepentist front. However, given the low vote support of the legal parties involved (EA, Aralar) its effect is certainly limited.
  • So far the right wing has remained rather silent. This is a good signal because it should mean that they are assuming (for a change) their state responsibilities and supporting the social-democrats in the negotiation. Certainly no negotiation can succeed without the effective support of the Spanish right. But they can easily decide to sabotage the negotiations at any moment.
We'll see. This is what I can think of at this time.

What is clear is that this communication is written to emphasize the will of negotiations and the reality of the truce, hence I would expect some sort of confirmation of extant bilateral negotiations from Madrid soon.


Update: first reactions.

The main government-aligned speaker so far has been Rodolfo Ares, Western Basque Councilor (regional minister) of Interior (police) and possibly the most visible leader of the PSOE in the Basque Country, who has reacted very harshly, deeming the statement insufficient, ambiguous and fraudulent because it falls short of his demand of immediate self-dissolution.

He rejected the idea that the government has also initiated a truce.

On the other side, members of the Basque Nationalist Left (illegal but important political movement) welcomed the communication as an element of unquestionable value for the arrival of peace and the consolidation of a democratic space as necessary framework to open spaces of dialogue and negotiation towards the definitive resolution of the conflict.

The say that, together with their own conclusions from the debates in previous months, make irreversible the beginning of a new political phase. They also make an appeal to the international community and to the Basque people to take active part in this new phase.

For Basque Solidarity (EA, Basque nationalist and social-democrat), the news are hopeful and say they will work for results. For Aralar party (break up faction of former Batasuna) it is a positive and important news item, but demanded from ETA a unilateral and definitive ceasefire. United Left-The Greens considers the announcement insufficient. The Navarrese People's Union (UPN, Spanish nationalist far right, close to Opus Dei) said that ETA cannot get anything from this ceasefire. The largest labor union, Basque Workers' Union (ELA), said that the Spanish government should take the announcement prudent and responsibly, revising their current policies and making decisions that contribute to distension. [Source for miscellaneous reactions].

In the international scene, two personalities have come to make declarations encouraging the search of a definitive solution. These are South African mediator Brian Currin and Northern Irish leader Gerry Adams.

Currin emphasizes that ETA does say that the time has come for the construction of a democratic frame for the Basque Country respecting the will of the majority of the Basque People. For the South African lawyer the key elements of this announcement is that ETA is adopting a unilateral and unconditional ceasefire and also that this decision is a response from ETA to the political leadership of the Basque Nationalist Left.

For Adams, now it is vital that the Spanish government produces a positive answer, takes the opportunity and establishes quickly inclusive political negotiations.

I'd take the declarations of politicians with a good pinch of salt but I think that the opinions of ELA, Currin and Adams are sincere, thoughtful and well-intended.

Update (Sep 6): more reactions.

Spanish Minister of Interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, declared today to a public TV program, that the announcement is far from the democratic minimums that this society is imposing to the Basque Nationalist Left to be allowed back to make [institutional] politics. He also expressed distrust that the ceasefire would last. Other officers of the ruling PSOE party, including Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero, went in the same line, demanding the total abandonment of armed struggle.

Aralar speaker, Patxi Zabaleta, said that it is impoverishing to attempt to reduce the debate on whether this communication is enough or not, on whether it is satisfactory or has not fulfilled the expectations. That is a short-term analysis and in politics we have to look to the long term.

The European Commission welcomed the announcement with prudent hope and announced it will follow the developments closely.

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