ETA – Euskadi Ta Askatasuna
Voters betray “ETA party”
The 2001 regional election was a major defeat for Euskal Herritarrok, who won about 10 percent of the vote and lost half of his 14 seats. After the election loss, some of EH’s leaders were replaced, and some veterans who criticized ETA’s methods were said to have left the party. At the same time, the party changed its name to Batasuna ( Unity ). Spanish media interpreted the changes as meaning that the party has now chosen a more radical separatist path.
The Nationalist Party strengthened its position in the election and PNV leader Juan José Ibarretxe was able to remain as the region’s president, now with a minority government supported by a couple of small parties in the Basque parliament. Note: Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is also known as ETA on abbreviationfinder.
The noose is tightened around ETA
When the fight against international terrorism came to the fore after the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the Spanish government was given opportunities to intensify the hunt for the country’s own terrorists. Spain was able to use the US electronic electronic interception system Echelon, which helped to trace important ETA cells.
In October, one of the organization’s most notorious support groups, the Donosti Command, was arrested in San Sebastián. In a joint operation in the border areas, Spanish and French police arrested one of ETA’s leading figures. In total, almost 200 ETA members had now been arrested since the ceasefire ended in 1999.
When the EU compiled a list of terrorist organizations after the terrorist attacks in the United States, Spain got through its demand to include ETA as well as some of the movement’s subgroups, including the support group for ETA prisoners, Gestoras Pro Amnistía . The left-wing guerrilla group Grapo was also declared a terrorist group. The decision meant a ban on supporting these groups in any way and it became possible to seize their financial assets.
ETA’s political branch is banned
The Spanish government wanted to go further and in June 2002 passed a bill in the Spanish Parliament banning parties that support terrorism. It was aimed at Batasuna, which was no longer allowed to engage in any open political activity.
The party had never condemned ETA’s acts of violence and the government considered itself to have sufficient evidence that it was in fact a front organization for ETA. The ban made it more difficult for members of Batasuna and other support organizations to raise money for ETA’s activities and to recruit new ETA members through Batasuna’s youth organization. The Supreme Court later decided to seize all of Batasuna’s bank assets after the party refused to comply with a call from the country’s leading investigating judge, Baltasar Garzón, to pay multi-million sums in compensation to the victims of ETA’s violence.
In March 2003, the Spanish Supreme Court decided to completely ban Batasuna as a party. It was the first time since the introduction of democracy that a political party was banned in Spain. Despite the ban on the party, many Batasuna members remained in political positions in several smaller towns and municipalities. The ban sparked protests in the Basque Country and ETA carried out new attacks.
ETA greatly weakened
The Spanish authorities estimated that ETA’s hard core in the years around the turn of the century consisted of only 30 to 40 members. But they, and an approximately equal group of activists closest to the inner core, were significantly decimated in the years 2002-2005. Many young ETA members were caught early in their careers.
At the end of 2003, the Spanish Minister of the Interior declared that ETA was now weaker than ever before. About 170 suspects were arrested in 2003 alone, partly as a result of both Spanish and French agents succeeding in infiltrating the organization.
Demands for a referendum on increased independence
The increasing pressure on the Basque separatists led to stronger nationalist currents in the Basque Country. The PNV-led regional government considered Garzón’s actions aimed at “a majority of the Basque people”. The Great Nationalist Party decided to make more far-reaching demands on Madrid. A main reason may have been that PNV also wanted support from the Basques who used to vote for Batasuna.
In the autumn of 2003, the region’s leader Ibarretxe presented a proposal for a Basque region in a “free union” with Spain, a free state with, among other things, its own legal system where the people have both Basque and Spanish citizenship. In a referendum, the Basques would have their say on the proposal.
The reaction in Madrid was strongly negative as the plan was contrary to the Spanish Constitution and the proposal was rejected by the Spanish Parliament.
The regional election in April 2005, where a yes or no to the Ibarretxe plan was seen as the most important issue, was a setback for PNV, which lost four seats. The newly formed Communist Party of the Basque Country (Ehak) received over 12 percent of the vote, probably from many Batasuna sympathizers.