The return of bombs in Spain

By Javier Ortiz (for Safe Democracy)

Javier Ortiz explains how the bomb that ETA set off in the new terminal of Madrid‘s Barajas Airport, destroying a parking lot and killing two Ecuadorian citizens, has shaken the foundations of Spanish and Basque politics, and raised enigmas essential to the future of the peace process. In Ortiz‘ opinion, the renewed violence is inconsistent with ETA‘s traditional modus operandi, and may signify an internal division within ETA itself, which will greatly complicate negotiations. The bombing is also evidence of the volatility of the Spanish political system, and the possible shift of pro-socialist voters to the right.

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.

THE BOMB THAT ETA SET OFF IN THE NEW TERMINAL (T4) OF MADRID’S BARAJAS AIRPORT not only destroyed the foundations of the parking lot and caused the deaths of two Ecuadorian citizens, but also shook the very foundations of the new Spanish and Basque political systems and raised enigmas essential to the future of the republic.

The first enigma surrounds the actual perpetrators of the attack. There is no doubt that ETA activists set off the bomb, but which activists? Were they working in the name and under the authority of the terrorist organization, or were they independently attempting to scuttle ETA’s dialogue with the Spanish government?

There are several aspects of this most recent bombing that do not fit with ETA’s traditional modus operandi. In the first place, the Basque terrorist organization has never broken a ceasefire without first announcing its decision. Second, they have always justified changes in attitude by publicizing some confused excuse for failed negotiations. In this case, ETA did not even give a prior warning before the attack.

Add to this the confidential –or not so confidential– information given by members of the Spanish government and ETA’s (theoretical) spokespeople that the ceasefire remains unbroken, and that renewed negotiations will take place in a few weeks. This announcement justifies the growing suspicion that the armed organization is divided, posing a very serious and unexpected problem to the continuance of negotiations. How can one negotiate with an organization that has no defined and valid spokesperson?

This unexpected and tragic turn of events has changed everything, beginning with the President of the Spanish Government, socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who hours before the bombing had boasted the success and importance of his policies towards ETA.

And according to the quickly conducted polls taken over the last few days, a significant portion of the pro-socialist Spanish electorate living in the region below the Ebro river (an imprecise way of designating the portion of the Spanish population that is neither Basque nor Catalan) is ready to abandon the left and vote in favor of the right. This result has only relative importance, considering that the next legislative elections in Spain are not due until 2008. But it is indicative of the relative volatility of certain political influences in modern Spain.

In Basque Country, the attack has resulted in serious political landslides, which should hardly be surprising. They have lain latent for sometime, buried beneath the surface by the apparent calm of the peace process. The principal political landslide is due to the dissensions within the hegemonic Basque Nationalist Party, the majority party of the autonomous government. The problematic understanding between the President (lehendakari in Basque) Juan Jose Ibarretxe, and the head of the party, ex-speaker Josu Jon Imaz, has intensified since the bombing. Ibarretxe has decided to mobilize the people behind dialogue for peace, while Imaz, in agreement with the Spanish government, has advocated a waiting period.

Unfortunately enough, political commentators are like comics in this situation. After rigorously evaluating all of the facts, the only thing that we are able to say is a Socratic: what do I know? Excuse me that I end my article in this way, but it would hardly be honest to write anything else.

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