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18 October 2007 Edition

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International: Interview with Batasuna spokesperson Pernando Barrena

Pernando Barrena

Pernando Barrena

 AS Spanish police are carrying out a wave of arrests of leaders of the banned Basque party, Batasuna, spokesperson PERNANDO BARRENA, well-known in Ireland from attending Sinn Féin ard fheiseanna, spoke to An Phoblacht’s SALLY GALLAGHER.

‘Wave of arrests are election ploy’


WHEN the Spanish state arrested 23 leaders of Batasuna, at a meeting in the Basque Country on 4 October, it was just by chance that Pernando Barrena wasn’t among them.
Pernando was hosting a Sinn Féin delegation that had travelled to the Basque Country to visit Batasuna’s main interlocutor, Arnaldo Otegi, who was imprisoned in June after ETA announced the end of its ceasefire.
On Monday of this week (15 October), another member of the national executive of Batasuna, Asier Imaz, was arrested.
For Pernando Barrena, the reasons behind these police operations are clear: the collapse of the talks process that started back in 2005 (after Arnaldo Otegi made public the Anaitasuna proposal for peace negotiations) and the Spanish Government’s failure to facilitate political negotiations among Basque political parties. This included Madrid vetoing the Basque Socialist Party meetings with Batasuna and upholding the banning of the Basque pro-independence party despite the opening of the peace process.
“I think this police operation reveals the decision of the Spanish Government to issue some kind of ‘declaration of war’ against the Basque pro-independence movement,” Barrena tells An Phoblacht.
He describes the arrests as “kidnappings” because activists have been targeted and “sent to prison because of their political work towards peace and political independence”.
Barrena believes the fact that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba briefed some of the international mediators in the peace process beforehand shows that “these arrests came as a revenge for our stance in the peace process – the refusal of Batasuna to accept anything less that the right to self-determination for all Basque citizens”.


SOCIALIST PARTY WEAKNESS
The weakness of the Spanish Socialist Party’s position – division among its leadership, pressure from the opposition in the form of a belligerent right-wing Popular Party and the fears of Zapatero of losing the lead in the general election in five months’ time  – have all contributed to the inconsistency that has characterised the involvement of the Spanish Government in the peace process.
Batasuna’s Barrena believes that the attacks against the Basque pro-independence left are part of the Socialist Party’s electoral strategy.
Not being brave enough to move the process forward, he thinks the Socialist Party believe that attacking the Basque pro-independence people will increase their popularity in the general election on 9 March.


‘TECHNICAL’ PHASE
From Barrena’s point of view, the key to understanding the end of the negotiating process and the decision by ETA to call-off its 16-month ceasefire can be explained by the move by the Spanish Government to limit the peace process to a “technical” phase – the only issue discussed being the immediate disbandment of ETA.
“They never showed any commitment towards a political agreement.
“It is very significant that, for the 16 months that the ceasefire was in place, and despite ongoing meetings between the parties, they kept arresting activists, sending them to jail and initiating judicial procedures against members of the Basque pro-independence left.
“The most revealing thing is that during the last negotiating attempt, in May this year, the proposal presented by the international mediators was rejected, as they also rejected ETA’s proposal of disarmament in the context of a political agreement that would allow the Basque people to decide on their future.”
Therefore the reason for the crackdown on the Basque pro-independence left, Barrena says, has more to do with electoral self-interest than security.
“I believe that they rejected the possibility of a political settlement here in the Basque Country due to the political situation in the Spanish state.
“They have always proceeded in a very cowardly way due to the pressure of the Popular Party and the forthcoming Spanish elections next March.”

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
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  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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