Sinn Féin ‘heavily involved’ in push for ETA ceasefire, says Gerry Adams

GERRY ADAMS LEADER OF SINN FEIN

GERRY ADAMS LEADER OF SINN FEIN

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.”

ETA’s ceasefire is a political shift – Gerry Adams

The Basque group, drawing on the Irish experience, has committed to the democratic process.

Spain must recognise that

 Basque group for independence says ceasefire called four months ago will be permanent and verifiable by international observers

The announcement of a ceasefire by Eta on Sunday was the culmination of years of debate, discussion and strategising among Basque activists. It is a significant development and a genuine attempt to contribute to a resolution of the conflict. I believe it has the potential to bring about a permanent end to the conflict with the Spanish state.

This dialogue also involved senior Sinn Féin representatives, including myself. 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. Many in the Basque country look to the Irish peace process for inspiration, and much of what has been attempted there in the last decade has been modelled on our experience.

Given the experience of the 2006 cessation – which ended in mutual recrimination in after only nine months – there will be those on both the Basque and Spanish sides who will be sceptical and cautious. But caution should not be allowed to encourage preconditions to dialogue. Caution should not be allowed to block progress.

In the Irish peace process we saw how games of scrabble were played around the use and interpretation of certain words, and some of these became preconditions which were then used to delay progress.

To succeed, a credible process between the Basque people and the Spanish state has to respect democratic mandates. The electorate has the right to choose the party it wants to represent it, and this decision should be accepted and respected by the Spanish government.

Toward the end of last year and into this year an impressive internal process of strategy formulation took place among Basque parties, trade unionists and political activists. This involved thousands of activists. The debate was about agreeing a new political approach.

In February a conference of the Abertzale Left, which includes the banned Basque party Batasuna, agreed a new, broad-front approach. This, too, draws heavily from the Irish experience.
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The new strategy commits Basque participants to “exclusively political and democratic means” and seeks to achieve political change “in a complete absence of violence and without interference” and “conducted in accordance with the Mitchell Principles”. The strategy finds its echo in the weekend statement by Eta.

In its video message Eta confirmed “its commitment to finding a democratic solution to the conflict. In its commitment to a democratic process to decide freely and democratically our future, through dialogue and negotiations, Eta is prepared today as yesterday to agree to the minimum democratic conditions necessary to put in motion a democratic process, if the Spanish government is willing.

“We also convey this to the international community and call on it to respond to Eta’s will and commitment in order to participate in the building of a durable, just and democratic resolution to the centuries-long political struggle.”

Of significance is the fact that Abertzale Left in its response to the Eta statement is describing that initiative as a “unilateral and unconditional cessation of military operations indefinitely”. It also speaks of its recognition that it should continue to develop initiatives, making “commitments and compromising” in order to make progress.

The Abertzale Left position would suggest that the Basque parties understand the need to build on this initiative. There is also a heavy responsibility on the Spanish government to grasp this opportunity for peace and progress. It needs to be farsighted, to think strategically and to ignore those voices that seek a resolution in terms of victory and defeat.

The international community, too, has a role to play, just as it did in the Irish peace process and is currently doing in the negotiations on the Middle East which commenced last week.

There are dangers ahead. No conflict resolution process can be risk-free for its participants. But the benefits of succeeding far outweigh the dangers of failure.