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ETA, (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna)

ETA, (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna)

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ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna)

The Basque region in Spain has long been an area of unrest with many of local population seeking independence from Spain. The Basque region has its own language and culture and traditions which differ considerably from those of Spain. The traditional Basque party has been a party of moderate nationalism which has made some progress towards this goal but long term success seems unlikely and possibly unrealistic for such a small region. Unhappy with this moderate approach a group of student activists founded the Basque Fatherland and Liberty group in 1958 also known as ETA. ETA has a Marxists political ideology but its made focus is on the creation of an Independent homeland for the Basque people known as Euskadi. Their main demands are National self determination for the Basque country, union of the province of Navarre, and of course the release of ETA terrorists currently serving prison sentences.

ETA’s first terrorist actions were bombings in the Spanish cities of Bilbao, Vitoria and Santander in 1959, followed by an attempt to derail train carrying civil war veterans in 1961. The Spanish police response was heavy handed with arrests, house searches and considerable use of torture. These actions drove many Basques into exile and others into the arms of ETA. When the Spanish dictator General Franco died in 1976, democracy was restored to Spain and the new government granted some autonomy to the Basque region with its own parliament and control over education, with the Basque language and culture being taught in schools. Many exiles returned and support for ETA fell. Yet for ETA the concessions were not enough and only full independence would be acceptable, so ETA began a campaign of violence against security forces and politicians which has continued to the present day. The Spanish government set up GAL anti-terrorist liberation groups who killed 28 suspected ETA members. Secret talks between ETA and the Spanish government were held in Algeria in 1992 but failed to end the conflict.

ETA’s campaign of violence was quickly loosing popular support and after the brutal murder of a young Basque politician in July 1997 over 6 million Spanish people took to the streets to protest against ETA. A hard line approach by the Spanish government resulted in the arrest in 97 of all 23 members of ETA’s political wing and imprisonment for 7 years for aiding the armed group. Events in Northern Ireland affected ETA as with the peace agreement in Northern Ireland ETA’s links with the IRA weakened and ETA announced a cease fire for the first time in 30 years. The Spanish government dismissed the ceasefire as it claimed ETA was using it to rearm and to carryout raids on arms depots and weapons factories as there source of weapons from the IRA had dried up. During the ceasefire there were no major terrorist attacks but violence in the Basque region continued, the ceasefire ended in December 1999.

ETA’s organisation is typical of a western terrorist group with a small hard core of activists possibly only 20 with around 100 supporters. It operates in the traditional self sufficient cells of western terrorist groups an inheritance of its Marxist origins. This makes the organisation very difficult for the authorities to penetrate. Operationally it is based in the Basque region in Spain but evidence suggests members and supporters if not cells in many countries including Algeria, Belgium, Cuba, Germany, Holland, Italy and Mexico. In recent years activities have been conducted from France and from Latin America. Links and training can be traced to the IRA and to Libya and Nicaragua in the past.

Funding comes from the traditional sources of terrorists such as extortion, drug trafficking, armed robberies and ransoms of which ETA has carried out around 46. Methods of operation include sophisticated bombings and assassination of government officials including the assassination of Admiral Blanco in 1973 as well as more traditional guerrilla attacks. In 1980 alone they killed 118 people in what was ETA’s bloodiest year. Over half the groups 768 victims have been Spanish security forces. In 2004 the Spanish government tried to blame ETA for the devastating bombings at Madrid railway station on the eve of the Spanish election. Blaming ETA was a heavy handed attempt to gain support for the governments anti Basque policies. The attack did not fit the normal modus operandi for ETA and it was quickly discovered that the attackers had links to Al-Qa’ida rather than ETA. There is no evidence that ETA has links with Al-Qa'ida and such links seem highly unlikely considering the long history of anti Muslim feeling in the Basque region. The Spanish government lost the subsequent election. With a more moderate government in power, the reduction and disarming of the IRA and the tightening international security in the wake of September 11th the effectiveness of ETA as a terrorist organisation is set to diminish.

La historia de la banda terrorista ETA: Cronología interactiva

(CNN Español) — ETA, siglas de ‘Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’ – expresión en euskera traducible como ‘País Vasco y Libertad’- busca la independencia de España y Francia de lo que el nacionalismo vasco denomina Euskal Herria (conformado por las tres provincias del País Vasco, Álava, Vizcaya y Guipúzcoa, además de Navarra y otras tres provincias en el sur de Francia) y la construcción de un Estado socialista.

Su condición terrorista es plenamente admitida por numerosos Estados y organizaciones internacionales.

Su fundación se remonta a finales de la década de 1950, durante la dictadura de Francisco Franco, y actualmente está inactiva tras el anuncio del cese de su actividad armada en 2011.

El grupo es responsable de la muerte de más de 850 personas desde 1968, siendo la década de los 80 su periodo con mayor actividad. Sus objetivos han sido guardias civiles, policías, políticos, jueces y civiles.

Navega la cronología para conocer las fechas claves desde el nacimiento de ETA.

This is the final part of a three-part series on the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna—Basque Homeland and Freedom) announcing its dissolution. Part one was posted on June 12 and Part two on June 13.

ETA: The practical application of Jean-Paul Sartre’s call for “action”

Drawing on its existentialist and other ideological influences, ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna—Basque Homeland and Freedom) was formed as a clandestine “action” group in 1958. It defined its objectives as “Euskadi, a free Basque Country, through a Basque state like other states in the world, and Askatasuna (freedom), free people in the Basque Country,” which also included Álava and Navarre in Spain and three French Basque provinces.

The resort to arms was viewed as the only way to liberate the Basque Country from “Spanish occupation.” The ETA newsletter, Zutik (Arise), declared in nihilistic terms, “Violence is necessary. A contagious violence, destructive, which would help our struggle, the good struggle, the struggle that the Israelis, Congolese and Algerians have taught us.”

Individual terror attacks were the essence of ETA’s demoralised “spiral of action-reaction-action” perspective. The amorphous “masses” were to be cajoled into rebellion by “action.” The “Theoretical Bases of the Revolutionary War” (1965) declared:

1. ETA, or the masses led by ETA, carry out a provocative action against the system.

2. The apparatus of state repression hits the masses.

3. In the face of repression, the masses react in two opposite and complementary ways: with panic and with rebellion. It is the right time for ETA to give a backlash that will decrease the first and increase the second.

ETA’s first confirmed assassinations occurred in 1968, targeting high-ranking members of the Franco regime. They took place just as the 1968–1975 revolutionary upsurge of the working class erupted.

After the fall of the Francoist dictatorship and the “transition to democracy,” ETA continued its terror campaign, adding Popular Party (PP) and Socialist Party (PSOE) politicians to its hit-list.

By the late 1980s, frustrated by the stabilisation of Spanish imperialism made possible by Stalinism and social democracy, ETA turned on civilians in what they called the “socialization of suffering.” Their deadliest attack was the 1987 Hipercor shopping centre bomb atrocity, which killed 21 people and injured 45 in a working-class neighbourhood in Barcelona.

After the end of the fascist dictatorship, successive Spanish governments continued to use the Basque region as a testing ground for undemocratic measures, aimed at suppressing domestic political unrest. The PSOE, first elected in 1982, created the anti-terrorist Groups of Liberation (GAL) murder squad, which assassinated 23 people, mainly ETA members, but also innocent bystanders. By 1992, most of ETA’s leadership had been arrested and tortured.

ETA’s indiscriminate bombings, pro-capitalist regional policies and lack of any genuinely progressive social programme led to its isolation. Support haemorrhaged following the September 11, 2001 attack on New York and the 2004 Madrid bombings. The PP government and its PSOE successor pushed through draconian legislation—under the banner of the “War on Terror”—such as the Political Parties Law, under which Batasuna [Unity—a Basque nationalist party] was banned.

In 2011, ETA announced a “definitive cessation of its armed activity” and in the following years attempted to negotiate, unsuccessfully, with the Spanish government on the future of its imprisoned members.

ETA’s armed struggle was justified by various pseudo-left groups as a legitimate expression of the “right of nations to self-determination.” They invoked Lenin and Trotsky only to justify their own hostility to socialist revolution.

Lenin did not uphold the defence of the right to self-determination as some timeless principle, but with a definite historic objective in mind—combating nationalist influences over the working class and oppressed masses and striking down ethnic and linguistic barriers to the unity of the working-class characteristic of regimes with a belated capitalist development. In the “advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe and the United States,” Lenin explained, “progressive bourgeois national movements came to an end long ago.”

Neither did Lenin champion regional separatism. In the Balkans, he insisted, “self-determination” meant uniting the region’s population in a federated republic that would tear down the economically irrational boundaries of the petty states manipulated by imperialism.

Like Lenin, Trotsky opposed the forcible retention of peoples in one nation and any suppression of their democratic rights. He defended the right to self-determination, up to and including the formation of separate states, but it was not the role of Marxists to advocate their creation. Rather Trotsky saw this negative defence of self-determination as a means of championing the voluntary and democratic unity of the working class and the greatest advantages for economy and culture.

In “The National Question in Catalonia” (1931), Trotsky criticised “the economic and political dismemberment of Spain, or in other words, the transformation of the Iberian Peninsula into a sort of Balkanic Peninsula, with independent states, divided by customs barriers, and with independent armies conducting independent Hispanic wars.”

He added, “Are the workers and peasants of the various parties of Spain interested in the economic dismemberment of Spain? In no case. That is why, to identify the decisive struggle for the right to self-determination with propaganda for separatism, means to accomplish a fatal work. Our program is for Hispanic Federation with the indispensable maintenance of economic unity. We have no intention of imposing this program upon the oppressed nationalities of the peninsula with the aid of the arms of the bourgeoisie. In this sense, we are sincerely for the right to self-determination. If Catalonia separates, the Communist minority of Catalonia, as well as of Spain, will have to conduct a struggle for Federation.”

Since Trotsky’s time, there have been far-reaching transformations in the world. The masses of Asia and Africa have passed through the rise of bourgeois national movements and the experience of decolonization. This historic episode provides conclusive proof that the oppressed people of the world cannot achieve liberation through the establishment of new national states under the leadership of the national bourgeoisie—proving the correctness of Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union also led to the proliferation of nationalist and separatist movements demanding the creation of new states, encouraged by the US and European imperialist powers in pursuit of their own geo-strategic goals, most tragically in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

However, it was not only political considerations that underlay the intensification of communalist agitation. The development of globalization, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) explained, provided “an objective impulse for a new type of nationalist movement, seeking the dismemberment of existing states. Globally mobile capital has given smaller territories the ability to link themselves directly to the world market. Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have become the new models of development. A small coastal enclave, possessing adequate transportation links, infrastructure and a supply of cheap labor may prove a more attractive base for multinational capital than a larger country with a less productive hinterland.”

The ICFI insisted that it was necessary, in the interests of the international unity of the working class, to oppose the revived calls for separatism, which seek to divide up existing states for the benefit of local business layers in the wealthier regions.

For the pseudo-left, the lessons of the end of ETA mean quite the opposite. They have set about intensifying the promotion of Basque and Catalan nationalism.

Revolutionary Left (Izquierda Revolucionaria), the Spanish affiliate of the Committee for a Worker’s International, claims, “The end of ETA must serve to strengthen and organize the revolutionary mass struggle in Euskal Herria [Basque Country]. The Basque Radical Left has shown that it has behind it the strength, the support, and the will of hundreds of thousands to defend a consistent left alternative.” The Revolutionary Left sows illusions in figures such as Basque bourgeois politician Arnaldo Otegi, claiming such people have “a great responsibility: to promote the mass movement, in a unitary way and with a clear anti-capitalist programme.”

This is a fraud. The experience with Syriza in Greece shows that such politicians have no intention of carrying out an anti-capitalist programme. Rather, the Basque nationalists are seeking a better deal with Madrid at the immediate expense of their supposed compatriots in the Catalan separatist movement—and by signalling their willingness to stand by as Madrid strengthens the repressive powers of the state for use against the entire Spanish working-class.

The end of ETA and the integration of the Basque pseudo-left in the state apparatus is a strategic experience of the international working class. The separatist organisations have demonstrated the absolute impossibility of the working class making any progress if it is strangled by nationalism and accepts a pro-capitalist perspective. Above all, the critical question is building a Spanish section of the ICFI that will explain to workers that the growing social and political struggles are part of an unfolding global process, posing to workers in every country the task of taking power and building a workers’ state pursuing socialist policies.

Assassination that changed history

ETA's first revolutionary gesture was to fly the banned "ikurrina," the red and green Basque flag. In 1973, the group targeted Luis Carrero Blanco, long-time confidant of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. The assassination changed the course of Spanish history as it led to the exiled king reclaiming the throne and a shift to a constitutional monarchy.

What is ETA?

ETA or as the Basques say, “Euskadi Ta Askatasuna”, although the world famous separatist organization is a terrorist organization according to some, ETA is generally accepted as a separatist organization and defends the freedom of the Basque region in Spain and France. If we were to translate the exact ETA, we could translate it as “Basque Country and Freedom”. ETA, which is an organization, […]

ETA or as the Basques say, “Euskadi Ta Askatasuna”, although the world famous separatist organization is a terrorist organization according to some, ETA is generally accepted as a separatist organization. and defends the freedom of the Basque region in Spain and France. If we were to translate the exact ETA, we could translate it as “Basque Country and Freedom”. ETA, an organization, advocates the Basque State view. To this end, he wants to take the sovereignty of the Basque lands from Spain and France by carrying out various activities. ETA, in which Spain seriously struggled, was established in 1959.

ETA, which has entered into a resistance for many years in accordance with this view, is still far from the view it defends and the dream of “Independent Basque Country” that it wants to realize.

R originally established on July 31, 1959, ETA has been carrying out various activities in Spain and France for more than 50 years. ETA, which declared a ceasefire on 5 September 2010, took an interesting disarmament decision on 8 April 2017 and declared that it will continue the struggle in the political arena. ETA, whose ideology is Basque nationalism and socialist revolutionism, has argued that it will now strive to solve all these ideals in the political arena. There are 5 important individuals who are the leaders of the ETA organization. These are: Josu Urrutikoetxea, David Pla, Iratxe Sorzabal, Izaskun Lesaka, Mikel Irastorza. The center of ETA is the autonomous Basque region, which is called the “Great Basque Country” and whose majority is still in Spanish territory.

ETA threatens the territorial integrity of Spain and France. However, as a result of the recent disarmament, ETA, whose former danger has decreased, has turned into a political body. These organizations, which have established a partnership among themselves, cooperated on the idea of ​​taking joint action. ETA was included in the list of terrorist organizations by the United States of America, Spain, France and the United Kingdom as a result of its mortal acts. As a result of the activities ETA has carried out since 1959, thousands of people have died. ETA has carried out attacks mostly directly targeting important settlements, educational institutions, financial centers and respected politicians of Spain and France. As a result of these attacks, many people lost their lives. ETA uses all kinds of ammunition in the demonstrations, besides they prefer public transportation vehicles and specialties.

Spain's Basque ETA separatists disband after 6-decade fight

MADRID -- The Basque separatist group ETA said it has dismantled its organizational structure after a six-decade independence campaign that killed hundreds in Spain, taking the final step in disbanding after disarming last year and bringing an end to one of Europe's bloodiest nationalist conflicts in recent times. The Spanish government vowed Wednesday not to abandon its investigation of crimes from the group's violent past, saying security forces would "continue to pursue the terrorists, wherever they may be."

ETA, whose initials stand for "Euskadi ta Askatasuna" or "Basque Homeland and Freedom" in the Basque language, killed more than 850 people during its violent campaign to create an independent state in northern Spain and southern France, most of them during the tumultuous 1980s when Spain was transitioning from dictatorship to democracy.

In a letter sent to Basque regional institutions and obtained by The Associated Press, ETA said it had "completely dissolved all its structures," and acknowledged its responsibility in failing to solve the Basque "political conflict."

With its support waning and stepped-up police operations on both sides of the Pyrenees undermining its ability to wage an armed struggle, ETA had already declared a "definitive end" in 2011 to its armed campaign .

But it took six more years for the group to give up most of its arsenal and another year for it to announce that its remaining members -- numbering fewer than 50, according to Spanish officials, most of them living overseas -- would be disbanding this week.

Responding to the announcement, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido stuck with the government's hard line and vowed to keep investigating unresolved crimes attributed to ETA.

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"ETA obtained nothing through its promise to stop killing, and it will obtain nothing by announcing what they call dissolution," he told reporters.

In the letter, dated April 16 and published first by the eldiario.es news website, ETA noted its dissolution "doesn't overcome the conflict that the Basque Country maintains with Spain and with France."

"The Basque Country is now before a new opportunity to finally close the conflict and build a collective future," the organization said. "Let's not repeat the errors, let's not allow for problems to rot."

It wasn't immediately clear why the letter took more than two weeks to become public. A spokesman for the Basque regional government told the AP that it received ETA's letter "a few days earlier." The official, who wasn't authorized to be named in media reports, declined to elaborate.

A final public declaration was expected Thursday, several sources in Basque separatist circles told AP.

Founded in 1958 during Gen. Francisco Franco's regime, the group grabbed global headlines when it killed the dictator's anointed successor, Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco, in 1973. It remained active long after Franco's death in 1975.

In all, the group killed 853 people over four decades, according to a tally by the Spanish Interior Ministry. ETA also injured more than 2,600 people, kidnapped 86 and threatened hundreds more, according to the latest government count.

In what became known as Spain's "dirty war" on terror, at least 28 separatists were killed by death squads set up by members of Spain's security forces to perform extrajudicial killings of ETA militants. A few dozen more were killed by independent extreme-right paramilitary groups.

Civil society groups that have overseen ETA's staggered finale scheduled an event in the southern French town of Cambo-les-Bains on Friday to mark the organization's end.

At least 358 crimes believed to involve ETA are unresolved, according to Covite, an association of victims, survivors and their relatives that is campaigning for ETA members to be held to account.

At a news conference Wednesday in the southern Spanish city of San Sebastian, Covite President Consuelo Ordonez criticized a statement last week in which ETA sought forgiveness from victims "who didn't have a direct role in the conflict."

Ordonez's brother Gregorio, a leading regional figure in the conservative Popular Party, was killed by ETA in 1995.

"This is not the end of ETA that we wanted and, above all, is not the end of ETA we deserved," she said.

Covite chided ETA for, among other things, failing to provide information about hundreds of unsolved crimes and failing to condemn its own history of terror and violence.

First published on May 3, 2018 / 5:54 AM

© 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Ending the armed struggle

On November 14 2004 Batasuna called for a negotiated solution to the Basque conflict. This call represented the view of those on the nationalist Left who recognized that the armed struggle had no prospect of defeating the Spanish State, and instead represented an obstacle to building a pluralist movement for self-determination and a democratic Left able to achieve social change.

On May 17, 2005 the lower house of the Spanish parliament authorized the government to negotiate with ETA, which itself declared that it would suspend all attacks on representatives of political parties (soon followed by a more general ceasefire). By the end of October that year, the representatives of Batasuna, the Socialist PSOE and the moderate-nationalist PNV concluded a draft deal that asserted the need for a “common institutional representation” spanning both the Basque Autonomous Community and Navarra and rejected political violence. This was the strongest ever basis for a political resolution to the Basque conflict. But ETA pressure on Batasuna soon broke the deal, and talks ended on 30 December after the ETA attack at Madrid Airport.

This attack sparked immediate and vast-scale repression against ETA and the entire Basque-nationalist Left. These episodes amply demonstrated that there was no prospect of armed struggle forcing the Spanish state to negotiate: indeed, in this sense, the state had clearly defeated ETA. But even beyond that, the “social” cover for ETA’s violence had now disappeared, including – or rather, most importantly – within Euskal Herria itself. All this helped push the nationalist Left into a political corner, raising questions over ETA’s continued existence.

The decisive reaction to ETA’s militarist strategy, which increasingly suffocated the whole nationalist Left, eventually came from within Batasuna. In February 2010 it published a document in which it acknowledged that the Basque national conflict could only be resolved by political, democratic means. In September of that year twenty-eight parties, unions and social organizations signed the “Gernika (Guernica) Accord” insisting on the recognition of all victims of violence, a change to the state’s prison policy, and a roadmap to peace in the region. Even ETA’s own prisoners in French and Spanish jails would soon sign up to this call.

Organizations separate from the armed struggle continued to make headway. In June 2012 a new Basque nationalist-Left party EH Bildu secured legal status, and in 2014 it secured 25 percent of the votes in the elections to the Basque Parliament. Local elections the following year confirmed its place as the second-placed party, behind the PNV. At the same time, LAB became the second biggest trade union in the Basque Autonomous Community and also made considerable advances in Navarra. Today it has some 45,000 members. So, too, has the nationalist Left increased its influence among feminist, environmentalist and international solidarity movements well-rooted in Euskal Herria.

The armed struggle, however, had reached the end of the road. Both ETA and the civilian nationalist Left were now bent on abandoning violence, even in the absence of negotiations with the Spanish government. In 2011 ETA publicly announced an indefinite ceasefire, followed by the decommissioning of its arms stocks in 2017 and, this spring, the dissolution of its remaining structures.

Eta - Euskadi Ta Askatasuna

1959 - Eta, or Basque Homeland and Freedom, founded during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco to fight for Basque self-determination.

1968 - Eta carries out first planned killing: victim is Meliton Manzanas, police chief in Basque city San Sebastian.

1973 - Franco's prime minister Luis Carrero Blanco killed when car passes over explosives planted by Eta in Madrid.

1980 - Eta's bloodiest year: nearly 100 killed, despite Spain's recent return to democracy.

Sept 1985 - First Eta car bomb in Madrid. American tourist killed while jogging, 16 civil guards wounded.

July 1986 - Twelve civil guards killed in Madrid and 50 injured. Juan Manuel Soares, a repentant Basque separatist, is sentenced to 1,401 years in jail in April 2000 for the killings.

June 1987 - Eta's bloodiest attack so far: 21 shoppers killed when bomb hits Barcelona supermarket. Eta apologises for "mistake".

April 1995 - Popular Party opposition leader Jose Maria Aznar, later to become prime minister, is target of Eta car bomb. Saved by vehicle's armour plating.

Sept 1998 - Eta announces truce.

June 1999 - Government says it held talks with Eta.

Nov 1999 - Eta announces ceasefire to end on December 3rd.

Nov 2000 - Former Socialist health minister Ernest Lluch shot dead in Barcelona. Nearly a million demonstrate.

Dec 2003 - Police say they foil an attempt by Eta to blow up a train in a main Madrid station on Christmas Eve.

March 2004 - Train bombings in Madrid, which killed 191 people, were initially blamed by the then-ruling Popular Party on Eta before it emerged that Islamist fundamentalists were behind the blasts. However, revolted Spaniards turned ever further from the use of violence.

Eta calls for dialogue with Spain's incoming socialist government but pledges to maintain its armed campaign.

Oct 2004 - New socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero appeals to Eta to give up the fight following the arrest of its suspected leader. Eta was dealt a "harsh blow" by the arrest of 21 Eta suspects including alleged leader Mikel Albisu Iriarte, alias "Mikel Antza".

Feb 2005 - Spain's parliament rejects Basque premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe's plan for virtual Basque independence.

May 2005 - Spain's High Court sentences two Eta members to 2,775 years each in prison for the Christmas 2003 plot. Spain's parliament gives the government permission to open peace talks with Eta if the group lays down its arms.

March 2006 - Eta claims responsibility for nine attacks between February and March.

March 22nd, 2006 - Eta declares a permanent ceasefire, to begin on March 24th.

Eta, a short history.

WHO ARE ETA?: Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - Basque Country and Liberty - was founded in 1959 as a student opposition group during Spain's Franco dictatorship.

Independence for seven Basque provinces, four in Spain, three in France also several varieties of socialist Utopia in the course of its history.

A civil guard in 1968 the Eta member who killed him was shot by other civil guards the next day, giving Eta its first victim and first "martyr" in 24 hours.

The murder of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco's prime minister, in 1973. This arguably removed an obstacle to Spain's subsequent transition to democracy, and gave the group a short-lived, romantic, legitimacy in the eyes of many anti-Francoists.

As Spain embraced democracy in the late 1970s, Eta escalated its terrorism, killing 91 people in 1980, the highest number of victims it has claimed to date.

Eta says that the Basque Country's unique language cultural heritage will vanish unless it has total independence, despite the fact that three of the Spanish provinces already enjoy more autonomy than any other EU region.

They are divided. About half of them would certainly like some form of self-determination. Most of these vote for the PNV, and about 15 per cent have generally indicated support for Eta by voting for its political wing, Batasuna. The remaining Basques are happy with the present autonomy arrangements.

Bombing of a Hipercor supermarket in Barcelona, 1987, in which 21 people died.

Did Eta target civilians in the past?

Possibly, not deliberately, though its operations showed contempt for civilian lives on many occasions.

How does Madrid respond to Eta?

In the 1980s, Socialist Party administrations were implicated in the use of state terrorism, which predictably boosted ETA support among Basque sympathisers. The current conservative government insists that it stays within the law, but implements a tough police and judicial policy.

What about the Basque peace process?

Influenced by events in Ireland, non-violent nationalists and Eta supporters formed a common front in 1998, followed by an Eta ceasefire.

Madrid insisted there was nothing to negotiate, and was slow to make concessions on prisoners. Eta did not seem willing to make any concessions at all, and ended its ceasefire in 1999, with a series of "soft target" killings that shocked even many of its supporters.

How did its supporters react?

Half of them switched from Batasuna to the non-violent nationalists of the PNV.

By banning Batasuna, and engaging in confrontational politics with the PNV. The latter launched a campaign for a referendum on self-determination, which polarised matters further.

So how did things stand until yesterday?

The political atmosphere between Madrid and Basque nationalists was more poisonous than ever, but Eta appeared to be on the point of collapse.

The other side of the coin: the abuses of power of the Spanish government in the fight against ETA

Disclaimer: ETA was an ethno-nationalist terrorist group that was active for 40 years in Spain. During this period, ETA killed more than 800 people and left behind thousands of victims, amongst them mutilated, extorted, kidnapped… ETA killed because of its ideology, threatening Spanish society for many years. For this reason, the author wants to make it clear that in no case is this article intended to legitimize any of ETA’s terrorist actions. The purpose of this article is simply to explain the irregularities and abuses of power committed by the Spanish governments in their fight against terrorism. In addition, the reader is warned that this article contains sensitive information about human rights violations such as tortures and murders.

Since the inception of Spanish democracy in 1978 and up until the present day, no matter which party has made up the government, the fight against terrorism has been a priority for Spanish politicians. Once democracy was established in Spain, it was predicted that the revolutionary groups, which originated during the dictatorship, would disappear. However, the reality was very different, specifically in the case of ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna – Basque Homeland and Freedom), which took advantage of the fragility of the new Spanish political system to force the independence of the Basque Country from Spain. The Spanish government – which during the first years of democracy lacked international cooperation – used numerous counter-terrorism measures to fight against ETA, many of which were brutal and illegal, to supress the groups. In this article I intend to explore and analyse another side of the ETA conflict: the abuses of power the Spanish state committed in order to end their war on terror, and more specifically the “dirty war” or “state terrorism” that tarnished the image of Spain as a consolidated democracy. Although many practices have been employed by these governments, not all of them have been licit or even legal. In this article, the multiple violations of the most fundamental basis of democracy, including tortures and murders, will be explained.

From Dictatorship to Democracy through Transition

Spain was established as a democracy after 40 years of authoritarian regime (Franco’s dictatorship 1939-1975) and three years of intense and extremely complicated period of transition, which finished with the signing of the Spanish Constitution in 1978. During the aforementioned transition, Spain looked to minimize the repercussion of those years of repression and authoritarianism that characterized the Franco regime. Although the Spanish transition is presented as a peaceful process, marked by the negotiations and pacts of diverse political parties, it was also characterized by mass demonstrations, violence and even terrorism (Sánchez-Cuenca and Aguilar, 2009). These events turned the transition process into an intense and “tumultuous” period both for society and for the new democratic state that was being built. During the Franco regime, many terrorist groups were born against the dictatorship. Although ETA is the longest-lived terrorist group in the history of Spain, there were other terrorist groups that played a very relevant role during the dictatorship, including FRAP (Frente Revolucionario Anti Fascista y Patriota – Revolutionary Anti-Fascist and Patriot Front) and GRAPO (Grupos Revolucionarios Antifascistas Primero de Octubre – Revolutionary Anti-Fascist Groups October 1 st ). Both groups were born during the last years of the Franco regime and were dissolved long before ETA (Lénárt, 2009).

Once the Constitution was signed, Spain introduced itself to the rest of Europe as a successful democracy, free of the abuses and atrocities of the dictatorship. However, many European countries continued to doubt the stability and the strength of the new political model which had been introduced in Spain, in particular France [1]. The birth of ETA in 1959 as a revolutionary movement against Franco’s dictatorship had generated sympathy in many European countries, as ETA represented the people’s uprising against an authoritarian regime (Morán Blanco, 2002). During the dictatorship, many members of ETA had gone into exile in other European countries, where they had received political refugee status and where they were granted many benefits (Sábada Zuera, 2013). This vision of ETA, plus Spain’s image as a democracy in its infancy (justifying the fact that traces of the dictatorial regime still remained) (Morán Blanco, 2002), led these European countries (specifically France) to turn a “blind eye” to ETA and consider it an internal problem that Spain had to address alone. In short, the new democratic Spanish state failed to obtain international cooperation in the fight against domestic terrorism.

But, was Spain really as democratic and free as it promulgated? How was it possible that after 40 years of dictatorship and repression there would be no legacy of authoritarianism?

Although Spain was considered to have undergone a very successful and rapid transition, the reality is that during the first years of democracy it was tainted by numerous abuses by both the State and public institutions, abuses that stained the image of Spain as a successful new democracy (Martín-Estudillo, 2014). Among these abuses, two stand out specifically: the first is the use of methods of torture in police stations and prisons the second is the “state war” or “dirty war” waged by the Spanish government between 1983 and 1987.

The practice of torture constituted an essential and frequently used part of the judiciary system since the beginning of Franco’s dictatorship. However, with the founding of democracy, this practice could not take place in a political model in which human rights and freedom are granted (Parra Iñesta, 2020). But this was a “utopian dream”, since during the transition and the first years of democracy, different practices of torture were used in Spain, especially as a counter-terrorism measure. (Parra Iñesta, 2020 Etxeberria, Beristain and Pego, 2017). Although the new Spanish Constitution expressly prohibits torture in all cases in article 15 (BOE, n.d.), the practice of torture showed that Spain dragged a legacy of 40 years of dictatorship into the modern era. The anti-terrorist laws that were created allowed those suspected of belonging to terrorist groups to be held in isolation for up to 10 days [2], which gave the commissioners a “free reign” to be able to exercise any type of violence without leaving any trace before the detained is brought to justice (Parra Iñesta, 2020 Etxeberria, Beristain and Pego, 2017).

Terrorism provided the perfect excuse to use methods of torture for many years, leading also to cases of arbitrary detentions (as the “caso Almería” [3]) or even extreme cases of torture that resulted in the death of many victims (like the “caso of Joseba Arregi” [4]). Although there is no exact figure for how many people (and more specifically Basques) were tortured, there were at least 5,500 public complaints against the security forces (Carmena, Landa, Múgica and Uriarte, 2013), and although there were multiple complaints of torture, the judicial investigations were few and far between and with very lenient punishments for those convicted. (Etxeberria, Beristain and Pego, 2017 Parra Iñesta, 2020). Although torture was an issue that damaged the image of Spain as a new and consolidated democracy, the reality is that very little was done by the Spanish justice itself. This showed indications that the Franco regime had left a legacy in the police authorities, and that the methods that were established in the dictatorship continued to be used, at least during the transition and the first few years of democracy.

But the police stations and prisons were not the only places where torture took place. As mentioned above, torture was a widely used practice in the fight against terrorism, but not the only anti-terrorist technique (far from the most serious) that violated the human rights of citizens (mainly Basques) during the first years of democracy.

The dirty war, state terrorism and the GAL

As mentioned above, during the first years of democracy, Spain did not have any kind of international support in the fight against terrorism, especially from its neighbour France, which had a sceptical attitude towards the new and recently established democracy in Spain (Morán Blanco, 2002). Although Spain made several requests for the extradition of ETA refugees from France, or police cooperation between countries, Spain did not obtain any results (Encarnación, 2007 Morán, 2002). Furthermore, in the late 1970s and 1980s, ETA’s terrorist activity intensified considerably. In fact, the year 1980 was the most violent, in which 98 deaths were recorded (ABC, n.d.). Faced with the difficult situation Spain was in, the Spanish central government decided in 1983 to use as anti-terrorist measures, the same methods used by ETA. Thus, in 1983 began one of the most difficult periods of Spanish democracy: the creation of the GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación – Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups) and state terrorism [5]. This period of anti-terrorist violence is also known as “the dirty war”, and it lasted 4 years (1983-1987). Even before the state terrorism began, during the transition, extreme right-wing paramilitary groups had already appeared whose objectives were to actively fight against ETA. Under different names, these paramilitary groups killed, kidnapped and tortured members of ETA. The most infamous were “Batallón Vasco Español” (Spanish Basque Batallion – BVE), “La Alianza Apostólica Anticomunista” (also known as Triple A) and “Anti-Terrorismo ETA” (ETA Anti-Terrorism – ATE) [6].

But state terrorism as such began in 1983 with the creation of the GAL. The GAL was an anti-terrorist paramilitary group (Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, n.d.) that was created under the command and support of CESID (the Spanish intelligence service) and politicians (Heger, Jung and Wong, 2012) and whose principal aim was to eradicate ETA by eliminating its leaders (Encarnación, 2007). Financed by earmarked funds, the GAL kidnapped [7], tortured and killed [8] suspected members of ETA, both in France and Spain (Encarnación, 2007 Chalk, 1998). In order to put an end to ETA’s terrorism, the GAL used indiscriminate violence, which claimed the lives of 27 people. As a result of this indiscriminate violence, of the 27 who died at the hands of the GAL, 9 were innocent people who did not have any kind of affiliation (directly or indirect) with ETA (Encarnación, 2007 Chalk, 1998 Tardivo and Cano, 2020). The GAL disappeared in 1987. However, their existence served to convince the French authorities that ETA was not an internal Spanish problem, but that it also affected France (Tardivo and Cano, 2020). Regarding the responsibility, when the relationship between the GAL and high-ranking government officials was discovered, many politicians were tried and convicted (see footnotes 7 and 8), the Government of that time and Felipe González never admitted their direct relationship with the GAL.


Both torture and state terrorism that have been carried out in Spain play a very important role in understanding ETA. One of the main consequences of these abuses of power by the state and the institutions was the legitimacy that was granted to ETA, from when it first became clear that Spain continued to be abusive, violent and that Francoist methods endured (Chalk, 1998 Encarnación, 2007 Martín-Estudillo, 2014 Tardivo and Cano, 2020 Shepard, 2002). Furthermore, these events questioned the quality of Spanish democracy due to the continuous human rights violations that had been committed and the little judicial persecution they had had.

Regarding the questions raised at the beginning of this article (was Spain really as democratic and free as it promulgated? How was it possible that after 40 years of dictatorship and repression there would be no legacy of authoritarianism?), I think both questions answer themselves. Spain, at least during the early years of democracy, failed in some of the basic principles of democracy. The GAL and the dirty war represented a weak Spanish democracy that violated fundamental principles like limiting abuses of state power and/or safeguarding the civil rights of all citizens. Furthermore, the existence of anti-terrorist legislation favoured and facilitated the systematic practice of indiscriminate arrests and torture (Contreras, 2001), made it clear that the institutions continued to have an authoritarian, violent nature inherited from Franco (Encarnación, 2007), and that the intentions to convict the perpetrators were minimal.

[1] France played a really important role in ETA terrorism, not only because of its geographical position, but also because it was part of the conflict, since according to Basque nationalism, three provinces of France are part of their geographical concept of Euskadi. Moreover, since most ETA’s activists used France territory as a “sanctuary” for their activities in Spain (Tejerina, 2001) and, at the same time, a big number of those activists got refugee status in France.

[2] Article 55.2 of the Spanish 1978 Constitution states that the rights granted in its article 17 (duration of detainees) can be suspended under special circumstances. This article (55.2) was materialized by the Organic Law 11/1980 and later replaced by the LO 9/1984, perpetuating the validity of what is established in the preconstitutional norm Law 56/1978, in which a detainee could be under arrest up to 10 days. This law 56/1978 was declared unconstitutional in 1987 (by Sentence 199/1987 December 16th of the Constitutional Court), but for a period of 9 years (1978-1987) a detainee could be kept incommunicado up to 10 days in police stations according to the law in force (Etxeberria, Beristain and Pego, 2017 Parra Iñesta, 2020).

[3] The case of Almería is one of the best known in terms of abuses of power by the police towards citizens and how it can be indiscriminate. Luis Montero, Juan Mañas and Luis Cobo moved to Almería on May 8th, 1981 to celebrate the first communion of the brother of one of them. The following day they were detained suspected of being members of ETA. On May 10, the bodies of the three men were found burned, dismembered and with multiple gunshot wounds inside a car (Cervera, 2018).

[4] One of the best known cases of torture was the case of Joseba Arregi (also known as Joxe or Joxemi). Arregi was a member of ETA who was arrested on February 4th, 1981 and was taken to the general direction of security in Madrid where he was held incommunicado for 10 days under the anti-terrorist law at that moment. He died on February 13 in the penitentiary hospital of Carabanchel, with signs of extreme violence and torture all over his body (Woods, 2019). Of the 72 policemen who participated in his “interrogation”, only 11 were charged, and 2 were tried and convicted, and later pardoned by the government of Felipe González.

[5] There is a debate within the academy as to whether it is possible to speak of “state terrorism” or whether it is necessary to use another term to define it. In this article, the term “state terrorism” will be used based on the explanation given by Contreras (2001, pg. 505), which states that “if terrorism requires the existence of an armed gang, organization or group, characterized by its stability, weapons, hierarchy and the purpose of altering citizen security, then, the existence of State terrorism can be affirmed after the various sentences handed down by the Spanish Courts regarding the GAL”.

[6] The general information about these paramilitary groups is totally incomplete. The appearance of these groups, as well as the exact number of victims and/or the attacks attributable to each one of those groups is almost impossible to determine due to the lack of information and even the accuracy of the sources. In a study collected by Sáez (2012), the fatalities of extreme right-wing political violence (GAL victims excluded) between 1975 and 1982 vary between 27 and 65 fatalities depending on the source of information consulted. On the other hand, according to a report by Carmena, Landa, Múgica and Uriarte (2013) the fatalities of all paramilitary groups (GAL victims included) between 1960 and 2013 were 75. Furthermore, according to Tardivo and Díaz Cano (2020), the state counter-terrorism provoked in the period of 1979 and 1987 a total of 80 fatalities. As can be seen, the information about extreme-right paramilitary groups and/or political violence groups is completely heterogeneous. For that reason, none of the sources consulted will be taken as “valid”, and no detailed information on these groups is offered.

[7] Segundo Marey’s kidnapping was the most controversial GAL kidnapping. Segundo Marey was a furniture salesman who was kidnapped in 1983 by mistake by the GAL (the GAL kidnapped Marey instead of Mikel Lukua Gorostiola). Even after realizing the mistake that had been made, the kidnapping continued. For the kidnapping of Marey, the policemen Jose Amedo Fouce and Michel Domínguez Martínez were tried and convicted, who with their statements also led to the prosecution and conviction of the interior minister José Barrionuevo, the civil governor of Vizcaya Julián Sancristobal, the secretary of state for the Security of the Government of Spain, Rafael Vera and the general secretary of the Basque Socialist Party (PSE-PSOE) in Biscay, Ricardo García Damborenea (Tardivo and Díaz Cano, 2020).

[8] The most famous case of both torture and murder was the case of ETA members Zabala and Lasa. José Antonio Lasa and José Ignacio Zabala were two young men who belonged to ETA. In 1983 they were kidnapped by the GAL in Bayonne, France, and taken to San Sebastian, where they were tortured for several months. Eventually, both were forced to dig their own grave, were shot three times in the head and buried in quicklime. The bodies were not found until 1995. Four people were convicted for the murder of Zabala and Lasa, among them Julen Elgorriaga, former civil governor of Gipuzcua, a military man from the Civil Guard, a sergeant and a corporal.


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