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Spain: Despite the Blow, ETA Is by No Means Finished

thierry.jpgAlthough the terrorist group ETA [1] was beheaded in France and this political blow had psychological effects on the morale of the terrorists, this operation does not mean the end of the terrorist group, but rather the relay point for new leadership, said the author.

(This article was originally written at the end of last May)

(From Madrid) THE LAST TIME THAT ETA [1] made the headlines was a result of their terrorist activity. The assassinations of socialist ex-councilman Isaías Carrasco and the civil guard Juan Manuel Piñuel, as well as numerous attacks on different Basque populations, have in recent months placed ETA in the media spotlight.

“This is not the first time that ETA has received a political blow of this size. In 1992 ETA was purged, for the first time, of all of its leadership” Now the media’s attention has been captured by the arrests of the alleged perpetrators of these murders. The political operation of the Civil Guard and the French Gendarmerie in Bordeaux, some 230 Km from the Spanish border, has resulted in the dismantling of an important part of the leadership of the ETA: the political-military apparatus, commanded by Francisco Javier López Peña, A.K.A. Thierry, presumed to be number 1, and three more members: Igor Suberbiola, Jon Salaberria, and a woman, Ainhoa Ozaeta.

The latter merits special mention because, besides being responsible for reading the official communiqué in which ETA last announced a ceasefire in March 2006, she held a position as one of the decision makers in the organization. This is something that has not often been seen in the history of the group; one can count on one hand the times that a woman has held a position of leadership in the organization. Among these was Yoyes, the charismatic who was murdered by her own ETA colleagues in 1986 for leaving the organization.

“This last political operation shows that ETA still has its sanctuary, its place of refuge in France” However, this is not the first time that ETA has received a political blow of this size. In 1992 ETA was purged, for the first time in the history of a terrorist organization, of all of its leadership. All at once, the snake with a thousand heads was decapitated. Those responsible for the political-military apparatus (those who control the terrorist cells and set objectives against those who infringe) and logistics (those who feed arms and explosives to the cells) were surprised while holding a meeting in a village in Bidart.

In the subsequent years, there have been significant arrests of ETA leaders: in 2004, two of the main leaders of the political-military apparatus were arrested, and last year those in charge of the group’s logistics were arrested.

SEVERAL INTERPRETATIONS

There are several ways in which one could interpret this last political operation: first, one could argue that ETA still has its sanctuary, its place of refuge in France. “The documents seized during the political operation will allow for a series of arrests to continue in the coming days, weeks, or even months” Once again it has been shown that the leaders of ETA, those who set the political strategy and decide who must be killed, have chosen this country for refuge because they know that it is more secure than Spain. However, it is not as secure as they would like. The French desire to do away with this ETA refuge makes their presence in the country increasingly problematic, as evidenced by this police operation.

Secondly, French cooperation is key to weakening the organization, preventing them from having strong leadership, and thus avoiding attacks. It is probable that, as a result of this operation, the terrorist offensive deployed by the ETA will be interrupted, especially after the abrupt end in conversations with the Spanish government last year.

Lastly, the documents seized during the political operation will allow for a series of arrests to continue in the coming days, weeks, or even months.

THE ARRIVAL OF NEW LEADERS

“Throughout its history, ETA, a thousand-headed hydra, has been faithful to the proverb: A rey muerto, rey puesto–for each dead king, a new one” However, although the terrorist group ETA has been beheaded and the political attack has had psychological effects on the morale of the terrorists, this operation does not mean the end of the terrorist group. Rather, it signifies the relay point for new leadership, for various reasons.

The first is that, as was already mentioned, it is not the first time that the police have arrested ETA´s leadership. Throughout its history, ETA, a thousand-headed hydra, has been faithful to the Spanish proverb: A rey muerto, rey puesto (for each dead king, a new one), and the vacancies caused by arrests are filled immediately.

ETA still has youth willing to kill for its cause. These are the same youth that practice kale borroka or street violence, an activity created by Jarrai or its successor, Haika, a youth organization of ETA. In fact, three of the detainees are old acquaintances of kale borroka, the school for ETA youth. “Despite having joined ETA in the early ‘80’s, he has always occupied a discrete position within the group”

It is also important to add that still at large are some of the principle persons in charge of ETA´s militia (the revolutionary army of the Basque): Garikoitz Aspiazu, Txeroki, and their lieutenant, Aitxol Iriondo, Gurbitz, or the veteran Josu Ternera. Some of them supposedly with more influence than the current boss, López Peña (Thierry), a character without charisma and a total stranger to the media. In fact, he rose to political power at the end of 2006. Despite having joined ETA in the early ‘80’s, he has always occupied a discrete position within the group.

UNITY IN THE FACE OF TERRORISM

“A new dialogue between ETA and the Spanish government would only make sense if the group first definitively abandoned violence and its historic obsession with trying to negotiate key policies – a matter for the national democratic parties”

So far the invincibility of the ETA to the police has not stopped it from affirming that its objectives, stained with the blood of more than 800 innocent civilians, remain just as far from being realized as they were on their first day.

ETA has been politically defeated, but it will not show the signs of this defeat while democratic parties (nationalist and non-nationalist) fail to demonstrate unity against terrorism.

Let us hope that the unity demonstrated after the last murder is the beginning of the end of a division that favors the survival of ETA. The signing of an agreement with clear aims to highlight the social unacceptability of the organization, delegitimize its claims, and ultimately agree once and for all on an antiterrorist policy would be the best tribute, along with the arrests of those responsible for the murders, that the victims could receive.

Achieving this unity, a new dialogue between ETA and the Spanish government would only make sense if the group first definitively abandoned violence and its historic obsession with trying to negotiate key policies – a matter for the national democratic parties.