The organization effectively gave up its weapons in October 2011. Since then, ETA, the Basque separatist organization, has finally chosen the road of politics instead of terrorism.
Recently, however, a much more concrete fact justifies the relief that the news has had in the Spanish and French media: On Sunday, ETA released the location of a depo with three tons of explosives and 120 sophisticated weapons in French territory.
This symbolic act by ETA is critical, and it could truly bring to an end the armed struggle that began back in 1959, in the middle of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, when the Basque independence movement had a clear anti-fascist and leftist connotation.
The price paid was more than 800 dead and hundreds wounded in dozens of attacks out of a total estimated 3,600 terrorist actions. These are civil war figures. The bomb attacks and killings continued even during the return to democracy in the late 1970s. The legendary attack — for its technical and political objectives — on Admiral Carrero Blanco on Dec. 20, 1973, is increasingly becoming a dim memory. This terrorist attack beheaded Francoism of its designated heir and inspired the movie Operación Ogro, by Gillo Pontecorvo with lead actor Gian Maria Volontè.
An uncompromising repression was accompanied by more or less covert negotiations. The first and more substantial debate began with the Zapatero governments after 2004. They were also paired with an intelligent policy of economic investment in the Basque country. Today, beautiful museums are scattered in that province, from Bilbao to San Sebastian, making it a tourist attraction. All these initiatives have calmed separatist ambitions and gave away enviable margins of institutional and fiscal autonomy to the Basque region.
Furthermore, the cultural climate where separatism grew also changed: The Spanish and European economic crisis has indeed put a strain on the Basque irredentism idea.
What would become of a small Basque nation, made up of French and Basque country, economically dependent on Madrid and Paris? In fact, Spain is still facing an unsolved, very current problem: the fate of the rich and developed Catalonia (the most Europeanized part of the Iberian Peninsula). Catalonia has not renounced its own separatist dream, while the Basque case is more easily tamed, based on the hypothesis of a reform of the federal Spanish state, announced and postponed several times.
The political crisis in Europe, however, is resurrecting the idea of ”small countries,” hence the incessant negotiations and the still uncertain outcome between Madrid and Barcelona to prevent Catalonia from unilaterally declaring itself an independent nation.
The final decline of ETA’s terrorism began with the bombing at the Madrid airport on Dec. 20, 2006, which had inexplicably hit the mediation actions of the Government of the Socialist Zapatero. There were two victims, both of Ecuadorian nationality.
Zapatero was the very one who had exonerated ETA from being responsible for the terrible attack at the Atocha train station in Madrid in 2004, while the right-wing government, led by José Maria Aznar, had sought to attribute it to the Basque separatist movement not to impeach its military interventionism in the Iraq war supporting the U.S. After the attack, probably organized by terrorists opposed to the peace talks, Zapatero was forced to apologize in Parliament to the Spaniards for his optimistic stance on the negotiations with ETA.
Dialogue was restarted in small steps, to regain lost time, while in Spanish prisons, 265 militant Basque separatists are still being held, in addition to the 75 detainees in France.
For now, their fate is not officially part of the negotiation for arms submission. ”There will be no impunity,” is the line of Rajoy’s centrist government of national unity backed by the benevolent abstention of the Socialists.
The Basque political organizations nevertheless insist to continue the negotiation process and to enhance the presence of army and police on the Basque Country.
Without weapons and terrorism, the debate moves forward.