18 May 2006 Edition
International: ETA on ceasefires, negotiations and political prisoners
An incipient peace process is unfolding in the Basque Country. The cornerstone of this process was ETA's declaration of a ceasefire on 22 March 2006. This Sunday, the Basque daily GARA published an interview with two spokespeople from the Basque pro-independence organisation. We carry here an extract from that interview.
GARA: What are the political reasons to initiate a process and why did ETA declare a permanent ceasefire?
ETA: There is a fundamental reason: the broad acceptance of the idea that Basque citizens should be able to speak and decide their future, because that is the key to resolving the conflict. Also, due to the capacity to resist of the Basque nationalist left, the fantasy of a political solution to the conflict has been shown for what it is, and this has reinforced the need for a political and negotiated solution to the conflict.
Since the Basque nationalist left made public its alternative for a democratic solution, the citizens and leading agents have assumed the two lines of development: on the one hand, the political process to decide the future of the Basque Country. On the other, what should be agreed between ETA and the states. Finally, those concepts and wishes emanating from the citizens have in some way contributed to lead political parties and agents in the same direction. Obviously, to these reasons we add that the decisions taken by ETA have not taken place in a vacuum. Our decision is also reflected in the willingness directly expressed by different agents in the last few months.
It has been mentioned on many occasions, and it has even been assumed, that ETA's declaration came after contacts and negotiations with the Spanish state. In fact, it is now a year since ETA announced that it was trying to open a negotiation process with the Spanish state. How has this developed?
When ETA made it public a year ago, it confirmed an attitude we have always maintained, that is, to express our willingness to maintain our struggle and our determination to overcome the conflict between the Basque Country, Spain and France through negotiation and agreement. Of course, in the last year, ETA has taken steps in that direction, to open and develop a negotiation process.
Have you open spaces to contact the French government?
We would like to reiterate information released a few months ago. ETA sent a letter to the French Prime Minister, Mr. De Villepin. In that letter, we expressed our willingness to resolve the conflict between the Basque Country and France through negotiation, as a first step to open the possibility of dialogue that should become a negotiation process dealing with the ways to solve the conflict. We have not received any official answer.
How would you value the attitude and response by the Socialist Party
The Spanish Socialist Party is trying to change the focus and the direction of the process in the Basque country so all the attention is directed towards the movements in La Moncloa [residence of the Spanish Prime Minister].
On the other hand, it continues with a policy of imposing conditions on the Basque nationalist left, instead of fulfilling its own responsibilities. We see their attitude as trying to bribe and put pressure on the Basque nationalist left.
The Basque branches of the Spanish Socialist Party follow the directives of the Moncloa, and they have not taken up yet their commitment when it comes to develop the process in the Basque Country. They should do it sooner rather than later so this process would really develop.
In its initiative, ETA directly challenge Madrid and Paris to state whether they will accept the results of the democratic debate that will take place in the Basque Country, but there have been not communications from the administrations. Do you expect a declaration? And what kind of declaration would you expect?
What the Spanish and French governments have to state is a clear willingness to find a solution to the conflict via a negotiations process, and a clear demonstration of their readiness to take this process to the end. They should guarantee the basic conditions that would allow the development of the democratic process, and that means to respect the civil and political rights of the Basque nationalist left, to end the kidnapping of Basque citizens and the repressive activities of the police. Spain and France have to commit and fulfil their commitments of "ceasefire" so the process can be developed.
Furthermore, the authorities in Spain and France should answer a key question: are they ready to respect Basque citizens' decisions in the future? They have to state their readiness to withdraw all limitations imposed against the desires and the decision making power of the Basque Country.
Is the question of the political prisoners a technicality? Where do you place the situation suffered by political prisoners and their rights within the process?
Political prisoners have the right to directly take part in the process, and there is a need for their participation. From our point of view, this is not a technicality, and not even a question that is only important to ETA. The prisoners are political activists who are imprisoned for their struggle on behalf of the Basque Country. So, finding an answer to the reason that took them to prison it will also possible to find an answer to the political prisoners' issue. And this, in the context of a conflict resolution process, has a clear name: amnesty and the release of prisoners. To release prisoners is a democratic condition essential to the conflict resolution. The activists that have been kidnapped are prisoners that the people recognise as their prisoners.
We believe that the governments of France and Spain should advance towards the respect of the prisoners' rights, especially to recognise their political status, and respect the basic rights of prisoners, particularly to end the exceptional situation imposed on the prisoners, including the deadly dispersion policy.