the News: ETA sets permanent cease-fire; Basque terror group opens path for Spain
to forge lasting peace
MADRID - Basque terrorist
group ETA declared a permanent cease- fire, opening the door to what could be
a profound change for Spain,
much like the 1998 Good Friday agreement ushered in an eventual peace process
for Northern Ireland.
For decades, Madrid has struggled
to contain separatist aspirations in the Basque Country. Last year, the
Spanish Parliament rejected a Basque plan to create a semi-independent state;
the region already enjoys more self-rule than almost any other part of Europe.
In contrast, the
separatist movement in the northeastern region of Catalonia
has been more successful at prying powers away from Madrid over the past quarter-century
because it never resorted to terrorism. Just this week, after nearly a year
of heated negotiations with the national government, Catalonia inked a regional governing
charter that gives it an array of new powers.
government has promised in the past to enter talks over the political future
of the Basque Country if ETA renounces violence. Prime Minister Jose Luis
Rodriguez Zapatero's readiness to negotiate greater autonomy for rebellious
regions, including Catalonia and the Basque Country, may have encouraged ETA
to lay down its arms, political analysts say.
While welcoming the
cease-fire, Gustavo de Aristegui, a Basque Popular Party deputy in Parliament
and former Interior Ministry official, said he wanted to know "what
concessions the government may have made" to persuade ETA to declare the
cease-fire. In the past, Mr. Zapatero said the government would consider a
range of concessions, including partial amnesties for ETA prisoners.
Yesterday, government officials said there had been no formal contacts with
Mr. Zapatero said
yesterday he would take his time to decide how to proceed. He said the
government has received ETA's announcement with "caution and
prudence" and called the cease-fire "the beginning of the end"
to ETA violence.
Still, Mariano Rajoy,
leader of Spain's
center-right Popular Party, the main opposition party, said ETA's
announcement "is a pause, not a disavowal, of violence."
The filmed statement
by three ETA operatives was the group's first- ever promise to permanently
lay down arms, after two short cease-fires in the past two decades. ETA said
the cease-fire was intended to promote "a democratic process" for
the greater Basque Country, which includes a swath of southwestern France as well as other parts of Spain.
During its 45-year
campaign for Basque independence, ETA has killed more than 800 people,
extorted businessmen, silenced debate and dominated small-town politics. But
its influence and popular support declined sharply after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks on New York and Washington sparked
global outrage. The March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid, which the conservative government
initially blamed on ETA, further eroded support for the armed struggle. The
group's last deadly attack took place almost three years ago.
Spain's problems with
Basque terrorism have drawn frequent parallels with the Irish Republican
Army's 30-year campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland, a conflict that
cost more than 3,000 lives.
Defense Minister Jose Bono evoked the Irish peace process, a tortuous effort
that began with the IRA's announcement of a complete cease-fire in 1994 but
which was undermined by mutual mistrust, further violent attacks and the
IRA's refusal to fully disarm.
Last year, 12 years
after the first cease-fire, the IRA declared its war over and destroyed
weapons in earnest, although splinter groups - and deep distrust between the
province's Catholics and Protestants - still remain.
información de Keith Johnson (con la colaboración de Marc Champion desde Bruselas)
publicada en el diario THE WALL STREET
JOURNAL el domingo 26 de marzo de 2006. Por su interés,
elzapatazo.com reproduce íntegramente el texto.