Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Voice of Reason

Once again Sinnika Tarvainen delivers a note that is worth reading.

It was published at The Raw Story:

2007 will make or break Spain's Basque peace process By Sinikka Tarvainen

dpa German Press Agency

By Sinikka Tarvainen, Madrid- For Spain, the year 2007 could mark a turning point - many expect events in the coming 12 months to either make or break what was expected to become a historic peace process with the armed Basque separatist group ETA. Should Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's plans succeed, he would go down in history for ending a conflict which has cast its shadow over Spain for nearly four decades, claiming more than 800 lives.

Yet there are increasing signs that the peace process could flounder before it has even begun proper, and become another failed attempt to achieve peace with the group seeking a Basque country carved out of northern Spain and southern France.

When Zapatero announced peace talks with ETA in late June, many analysts believed Spain to have an unprecedented chance to finally end a long spiral of shootings, bombings, kidnappings, extortion and street violence.

Three months earlier, ETA had declared its first "permanent" ceasefire after refraining from fatal attacks for nearly three years.

There was evidence that western Europe's last armed nationalist group was weaker than ever before, with hundreds of its activists captured in recent years and the vast majority of Basques opposing its violent tactics.

ETA's political wing Batasuna showed willingness to distance itself from violence in an attempt to lift a 2003 legal ban on its activities and to participate in local elections scheduled for May 2007.

Government experts made plans for a two-track peace process. The government and ETA would discuss only practical questions, such as disarmament and the fate of some 600 jailed ETA activists, while Basque political parties including Batasuna would talk about the region's future.

The separatists, on their side, took advice from experts on the Northern Ireland peace process, such as Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and the priest Alec Reid, and studied the South African reconciliation process.

And then - nothing happened.

Angered by the government's refusal to stop arresting and trying its or ETA's members on charges ranging from participating in past attacks to staging illegal demonstrations, Batasuna declined to condemn ETA's violence - the condition for the party's relegalization.

The Socialist government meanwhile appeared to have a limited margin of manoeuvre under constant pressure from the opposition conservatives, who kept accusing Zapatero of surrendering to terrorists.

The conservative People's Party (PP) backed a string of protest rallies organized by some associations representing ETA's victims, the most recent of which brought 120,000 people to the streets of Madrid in November.

As both sides became increasingly entrenched in their positions, the separatists stepped up pressure, relaunching acts of street vandalism in the Basque region and robbing some 350 handguns in France in October.

Batasuna has also hardened its initially conciliatory tone, stressing that the eventual party talks would have to deal with topics unacceptable to Spain, such as the option of a Basque referendum on the region's independence.

Half a year after Zapatero "launched" the peace process, not a single official meeting has taken place, and the government does not intend to stage any as long as ETA does not unequivocally give up all forms of violence.

Moderate Basque nationalists and the Basque branch of Zapatero's Socialist Party have reportedly suspended preliminary meetings with Batasuna which had been laying the ground for party talks.

Neither the government nor the separatists have spoken openly of failure, but pessimism is growing on both sides.

"The process is in an increasingly serious situation every day," Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi warned recently, while Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba admitted that it was not "taking off."

Initially, many analysts were convinced that ETA could not defy public opinion by beginning to kill again after Spain had become used to peace - but now, they are no longer so sure.

Police chiefs have advised their men to start preparing for the possibility that ETA will break the ceasefire, the daily El Mundo reported.

Many are wondering whether Zapatero will follow in the footsteps of Socialist premier Felipe Gonzalez and his conservative successor Jose Maria Aznar, who failed in attempts to negotiate with ETA in 1989 and 1998-99 respectively.

Observers expect the answer to become clear by March, when Batasuna has to decide whether to contest the upcoming local elections.

She does not mention the fatalities among the Basques though, seems like nobody cares about those who have died victim to Spain's state sponsored terrorism. Just to mention an example, dozens have been killed or wounded when trying to visit their jailed relatives in prisons far away from the Basque Country, a result of a deadly policy known as "disperssion".

Now, neither González nor Aznar ever attempted to negotiate with ETA, all what they attempted was to create a diversion in order to continue to deny Euskal Herria its right to self determination.

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