Writing in the Guardian, Gerry Adams says his party held a series of meetings with Basque separatists
Sinn Féin’s leader, Gerry Adams, said today his party had been heavily involved in pushing the Basque separatist group Eta towards calling a ceasefire at the weekend.
As the Spanish government ruled out negotiations and claimed Eta had announced the ceasefire because it was now too weak to carry out terrorist attacks, Adams, writing in the Guardian today, said the move had been the result of months of talks among Basque separatists.
“This dialogue also involved senior Sinn Féin representatives, including myself,” he said. “Sometimes the discussions were held in the Basque country, sometimes in Belfast and on a number of occasions in recent years Sinn Féin representatives travelled to Geneva for meetings with Basque representatives.” It was not clear whether the meetings were with members of Eta, or only with other radical separatist groups from the Basque country.
Eta had responded by calling a ceasefire that, Adams hoped, would be grasped by the Spanish government as an opportunity to start a peace process that might follow some of the principles used in Ulster.
The Sinn Féin leader’s words contrasted, however, with the reaction of prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s government in Madrid, which said it would not talk to Eta.
“Eta kills in order to impose itself, that means one cannot [have] dialogue,” said the interior minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. “The word truce, as the idea of a limited peace to open a process of dialogue, is dead.”
Zapatero’s government last tried negotiating with Eta when it called a ceasefire four years ago. That truce ended nine months later when a bomb at Madrid’s Barajas airport killed two people. Rubalcaba agreed that Eta had effectively been observing a ceasefire for months, but said this was because it wanted to reorganise and escape intense police pressure in Spain and parts of Europe.
“What they do not say is that they decided to stop months ago because they were so weak,” he said. “Eta has stopped because it cannot do anything, and also in order to rebuild itself.”
He claimed the ceasefire announcement was also an attempt by Eta to keep control over the increasingly tired and fractious radical Basque separatist groups that have traditionally backed a terrorism campaign that has claimed more than 800 lives over four decades.
These are the same groups, headed by former leaders of the banned Batasuna separatist party, that Sinn Féin has been helping.
“The aim is to try to cover up their weakness,” said Rubalcaba. “Because if Eta is weak those groups in the separatist worldwho are rebellious against them grow in strength.”
One of Eta’s founders, Julen de Madariaga, said that the group’s current weakness was more the result of a loss of support among ordinary Basques than due to police action.
“The main reason for Eta’s weakness is that over the past 12 to 15 years the people who used to support it have abandoned it,” Madariaga, who distanced himself from the group’s tactics years ago, told the Guardian by telephone. He said the decision by leaders of the banned Batasuna party to stop bowing to Eta’s line and to push for peace was more than overdue.”It was time that Batasuna made things clear to Eta and took charge of itself,” he said.
Analysts pointed to a double bind for Eta as it was squeezed by police on one side and by its own supporters on the other.
“The ceasefire statement aims to give political meaning to a strategic rest decreed by Eta’s leaders six months ago in order to reorganise internally to cope with police pressure,” wrote Florencio Dominguez, an Eta expert, in La Vanguardia newspaper.
Dominguez pointed to the arrest in February of Ibon Gojeaskoetxea, a senior Eta commander, as a key moment. That arrest was hailed as the fifth time in two years that police had detained the person directly in charge of Eta’s handful of remaining armed units.
At the same time, police had prevented new units from being formed in several parts of Spain, and discovered Eta’s latest bombmaking laboratory. It had also dismantled its new bases in Portugal, to where Eta had hoped to move its support infrastructure that historically had been based in France.
It was in February, too, that Batasuna leaders won the support of thousands of local activists for a proposal for a new process of talks over the future of the Basque country that would require Eta to give up violence.
“Sunday’s statement did not come out of the blue,” said Adams. “I believe it has the potential to bring about a permanent end to the conflict with the Spanish state.”