Is this ETA’s Farewell to Arms?

by Chris Borgen

Something that our European readers have already probably heard as it is one of the most viewed stories on the BBC website (but not so much here in the U.S.), the Basque separatist terrorist organization ETA has renounced (at least for now) the use of violence: 

Armed Basque separatist group Eta says it will not carry out “armed actions” in its campaign for independence.

In a video obtained exclusively by the BBC, the group said it took the decision several months ago “to put in motion a democratic process”.

The Basque interior minister called the statement “insufficient”. Madrid has previously insisted that Eta renounce violence and disarm before any talks.

Eta’s violent campaign has led to more than 820 deaths over the past 40 years.

It has called two ceasefires in the past, but abandoned them both.

This latest announcement comes after the arrests of numerous Eta leaders and during an unprecedented period of debate within the Basque nationalist community over the future direction of policy, says the BBC’s Clive Myrie in San Sebastian…. [snip]

The pro-Eta party Batasuna, which has been banned since 2003 on the grounds that it is Eta’s political wing, is one of two Basque nationalist parties to have called on Eta to declare “an internationally verifiable ceasefire” days earlier.

In further analysis, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford is not so sanguine:

It is widely accepted that Eta is weaker than ever in its 51-year history. So to many people, Eta’s retrospective ceasefire will look like an attempt to disguise its weakness as a desire for peace. Some will shrug it off as irrelevant; others will dismiss it as a way to regroup and re-arm.

Eta’s hope must be to negotiate the legalisation of Batasuna, and achieve its aims through the ballot box.

According to the Vancouver Sun, the chairperson Basque Socialist party seems to believe that there is some reason for hope, saying

that after talking over the summer to Brian Currin, a South African mediator who has worked with Batasuna, he believed the process towards laying down arms would come in two phases.

“The first, the truce, and the second, the verification by international individuals. What he (Currin) was saying is that Batasuna has said that ETA has to end (violence) and for the past year its assemblies have been voting 90/10 in favour.”

Let us hope that this really is an end, and not just a pause.

(And, by the way, yes, I know Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was set in Italy, not Spain.)

[CORECTION: A reader has corrected me– part of A Farewell to Arms also took place in what is now Slovenia. And, I guess, there was some in Switzerland, as well. But the point was I knew that the title wasn’t from one of Hemingway’s novels on Spain. Opinio Juris readers sure keep us on our toes!]

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