Thursday, March 23, 2006

Time Out

An unconditional surrender is quite different from a permanent ceasefire. The former happens when an enemy has been defeated to such a degree that the futility of its cause begins to outweigh the delusions of grandeur that once kept it fighting. The latter is very often just a call for a breather; a hudna, as it is known in Islamic law. The Basque terrorist group, ETA, has opted for the latter. Jose is the expert and has all the latest news. I've dusted off an old piece I wrote about the terrorist group and posted it below. The Saturday I refer to was just a few weeks ago.

Fifteen years ago 12 year-old Irene Villa lost both of her legs in a bombing by the Basque terrorist group ETA. On Saturday, she elegantly expressed why hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were braving the freezing cold and rain of Madrid to protest their Socialist government. “We want to make sure that [the government] does not negotiate with murderers and that terrorism is not seen as a way to achieve a political end," she said, with other victims of ETA at her side. Unfortunately, the Spanish prime minister has a habit of listening less to the victims of terrorism than to the very terrorists themselves.

Bombs planted by ETA have been exploding in Spain on a regular basis since the March 11 train bombings in Madrid. While the general feeling after the worst terrorist attack in Spanish history was that the terrorist group would lay low for a while so as not to lose any of its already slender support, the election of Socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has proven to be as big a boon for ETA as it was for the
Islamic terrorists themselves.

The tragedy is that ETA had been at its weakest state since its campaign for an independent country began more than 30 years ago—a campaign which has been responsible for more than 800 deaths. ETA’s reduced military capacity was primarily due to the aggressive anti-terrorism policy of former Conservative prime minister José María Aznar. After a 14 month ETA ceasefire (which ended in November 1999 following negotiations with the terrorist group and Aznar’s own government) turned out to be just a ploy to buy time to regroup, Aznar learned that dialogue costs lives and vowed to relentlessly pursue the terrorists to the full extent of the law. There have been more than 650 arrests of ETA operatives by Spanish and French police since 2000. The 2003 Spanish Supreme Court decision to outlaw the political party Batasuna for its affiliation with ETA was also a big victory for Spain.

The Anti-Terrorism Pact agreed to by Conservatives and Socialists in 2000 was just as important in demolishing ETA. By “agreeing not to disagree” both major political parties in essence denied the possibility of negotiating with ETA unless it renounced violence and laid down its weapons. It was Zapatero’s breaking of this pact that has allowed ETA to rise from the dead. As Aznar said in a recent interview: “Every time a terrorist is offered the possibility of negotiation, he thinks ‘it is possible for me to win this battle.’ When you are strong, you never offer negotiations, but when you are weak you talk about them all the time.”

Zapatero wasted no time after his election victory in showing ETA that Spain was in fact weak and willing to negotiate. The terrorist group responded to his suggestion that the time was right for talks with 13 bombs in nine different Spanish cities in just four days at the end of 2004. This didn’t stop Zapatero from continuing the political debate about whether his administration should negotiate with the terrorists. In May 2005, right before Parliament was set to vote on a motion by the Socialists requesting the green light to dialogue, ETA set off four bombs in different Basque towns. Zapatero failed to mention the bombings in a speech just hours following the explosions.

The situation continued to worsen. After the Socialists and its leftist parliamentary allies finally approved the talks proposal, 53 people were injured when an ETA car bomb exploded in Madrid. ETA celebrated Spanish Constitution Day in December 2005 by detonating five bombs along Madrid highways. And over the last 12 days ETA has set off three bombs targeting Basque companies.

Unfortunately, Zapatero’s willingness to dialogue with ETA and Batasuna has precipitated other threats to Spanish unity. A Catalan statute of autonomy has recently caused Spaniards to fear the possibility of eventual Catalan independence. Why, Catalan separatists undoubtedly wonder, should we stop at partial autonomy when the Spanish government is willing to engage in negotiations with ETA?

After the parliamentary resolution allowing negotiations with ETA was passed, the Conservatives accused Zapatero of “betraying the dead.” Some 850,000 Spaniards agreed when they took to the streets of Madrid to protest. Victims of ETA attacks and their relatives held signs reading “No negotiations in my name.” Zapatero was unmoved. However, after the violent protests by Muslims over the Danish cartoons, the prime minister was affected enough to write an op-ed for the International Herald Tribune calling on the West to be more sensitive.

On Saturday, Zapatero once again dismissed the concerns of the hundreds of thousands demonstrating against his policies and stated they should not adopt the tone of the Conservative opposition. It seems that terrorists and their supporters are the only ones who really know how to earn his attention—through violence.

5 Comments:

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