The wounds persist in Spain, ten years after ETA laid down its arms

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A decade after the Basque separatist group ETA renounced the use of arms, the northern region of Spain is still trying to turn the page on decades of bloodshed.

In a video released on October 20, 2011, three masked ETA leaders announced that the group classified as a terrorist organization by the European Union “has decided to permanently cease its armed activity.”

“It is time to look to the future with hope. It is also time to act with responsibility and courage,” they added, raising their fists in the air at the end of the video.

The announcement ended the last armed insurgency in Western Europe.

“After ten years, we have made progress … but there are still wounds that have not healed,” wrote regional leader Íñigo Urkullo of the moderate Basque nationalist PNV party in an opinion column published on Sunday.

Created in 1959 at the height of the Francisco Franco dictatorship, which repressed the Basque culture and language, ETA is accused of killing more than 850 people in its fight for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France. .

His decision to lay down his arms was a “great turning point” for the Basque separatist movement, said political scientist Rafael Leonisio Calvo, author of a book on ETA.

“It was a surprise, mainly because it was a unilateral announcement without concessions … but in reality it was the result of a long process,” he told AFP.

Weakened by arrests

Several weeks before the announcement, secret negotiations took place between ETA leaders and the Spanish government through intermediaries.

The framework for the talks was agreed with the then Socialist Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, one of the historical leaders of ETA, Josu Urrutikoetxea, told AFP in a recent interview.

The talks led to an international peace conference held in October 2011 in the Basque coastal city of San Sebastián, where ETA was urged to end its armed struggle to “promote reconciliation.”

At that time, ETA was seriously weakened by the arrests of its top leaders and the seizure of their weapons.

The group was also being pushed by its political wing, under pressure from Basque public opinion, to “change its strategy” and stop violence, said Eguzki Urteaga, a sociologist at the University of the Basque Country.

“During the Franco regime, ETA benefited from a kind of aura among part of the population that opposed the regime,” he told AFP.

“But then the rejection of the armed struggle did not stop growing, especially after 1995 when ETA decided to broaden its objectives to include members of civil society.”

‘Dead end’

This opinion is shared by Calvo, who said that ETA was in a “dead end” at the time.

“Polls showed that even among separatist voters, support for ETA had dropped considerably and it had become a minority,” he added.

ETA continued its pacification after announcing that it had abandoned the violence.

In April 2017, the group surrendered its weapons and the following year apologized to its victims, a few days before it formally declared its dissolution.

Still, resentments persist.

Victims groups denounce the jubilation ceremonies held for ETA members after their release from prison and complain that some 300 ETA homicides have not been solved.

But the main spokeswoman for Spain’s central government, Isabel Rodríguez, said Tuesday that Basque separatists must “go much further” and condemn the ceremonies that take place when ETA members are released from jail.

The relatives of ETA prisoners complain that many are still held in prisons far from their loved ones.

But a protest scheduled for September to demand the release from prison of ETA member Henri Parot, who is serving a long sentence for his role in 39 murders, was canceled after he sparked against demonstrations.

Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the far-left Basque independence party EH Bildu, who considers himself heir to the former political wing of ETA, apologized on Monday for the “suffering suffered” by ETA’s victims.

“It should never have happened.”

(AFP)