By Javier Ortiz (for Safe Democracy)

Javier Ortiz draw attention to the ups and downs that the fight against terrorism has taken during the last few years in Spain, and analyzes how the policies implemented by Rodríguez Zapatero (before his presidency) could now become obstacles to the very peace process that he began. In 2000, Zapatero took a hardliner stance on terrorism in order to gain support against ex-President Aznar. Since then, he has entirely changed his position on terrorism, and yet the mechanisms that he set in motion continue to function, and risk jeopardizing the whole peace process. In Ortiz‘s opinion, an important lesson can be learned from the current President of Spain on the dangers of political opportunism of any kind.

Javier Ortiz has practiced journalism since the age of 18, and currently writes for El Mundo, where he also worked as a sub director responsible for the opinion section. He is a political commentator on public radio and television in Basque country. During Franco’s regime he spent years in prison and in exile for political reasons. He has written for many different mediums around the world, and has published over eight books to date.

EVER SINCE JOSÉ LUIS RODRÍGUEZ ZAPATERO´S ELECTION as general secretary of the Socialist Party (PSOE) in July of 2000, the fight against terrorism has gone through a very interesting period of ups and downs.

At that time the socialists were the minority party and were struggling for ideas in order to unseat the firmly rooted government of José María Aznar, President of the rightist Popular Party (PP).

Convinced that one of Aznar’s main reasons for success was his toughness against ETA and Basque nationalism, Zapatero decided to adopt even harder policies in order to one-up his opponent. First, he signed a document, which identified all Basque nationalism with terrorism, and later he proposed the adoption of a new law, called the Law of Parties, which prohibited Basque nationalist political parties from participating in government.

Zapatero’s proposals were adopted and put into practice, bringing him prestige outside of the socialist voting block, and helping him to win the elections of March 14th 2004. And not just his policies, but the sudden terrorist attack of March 11 on Madrid’s Atocha station blasted Zapatero into power. Aznar’s government handled the bombings horribly, attributing them to ETA: a falsehood that aroused indignation among a large number of Spanish citizens.

Once president of the Spanish government, Zapatero observed that the conditions in Basque country were favorable for achieving peace, ETA had grown less and less popular with a vast majority of the Basque population, and the terrorist organization appeared willing to reach an agreement similar to the one achieved with the IRA in Northern Ireland. Not only that, but many non-violent Basque nationalists were ready to help the process proceed.

With such excellent conditions for peace, Zapatero changed his tune and happily declared that all laws proposing persecution and hardheadedness to deal with Basque terrorism (including the ones that he himself had created) were useless.


The problem now is that while human beings can change their minds, laws cannot; and the judicial, political, and law-enforcing machinery that Zapatero put into place years ago has continued to move along the hardliner path upon which it was fashioned. As the process continues, Zapatero’s past may come into play as a serious obstacle for the ultimate achievement of peace.

It’s like the old Spanish proverb that says: if you raise up ravens, in the end they will peck out your eyes. The lesson to be learned from this situation is to avoid any kind of political opportunism.

It is foolish to benefit in the short run at the jeopardy of your strategy in the long run.

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