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8 January 1998 Edition

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Our crime: Looking for peace

Imprisoned Basque leader Karlos Rodriguez writes exclusively for An Phoblacht from his prison cell in Basauri

In May 1995, when as Herri Batasuna's delegate at Sinn Féin's Ard Fheis in Dublin, I began my speech by referring to Irish and Basque political prisoners, I couldn't imagine that today I myself would be a Basque political prisoner. Nor could I imagine that today I would be highlighting Herri Batasuna's situation, and especially the situation of the 23 members of its national execution, judged and imprisoned for divulging a peace proposal.

Since the death of the dictator Franco, 22 years ago, the successive Spanish government have maintained a similar attitude towards what they consider the `Basque Question'. Moderate, left-wing and right-wing governments (UCD, PSOE and PP) have tackled this `question' as an exclusively violent issue. Consequently, they've tried to eliminate the organisation ETA by political-military means. What they call ETA's social roots have become their main targets. In the Basque Country, as in Ireland, reality is stubborn as is the strength of the independence movement's struggle. It has been demonstrated for decades how wrong are the Spanish and British governments' approaches.

The systematic torture, the anti-independence paramilitary groups, the inhuman conditions suffered by hundreds of prisoners; thousands arrested, exiled and deported; the dirty war; and the endless list of repressive actions along with the most sophisticated counter-insurgency techniques and the psychological war launched by most of the mass media haven't been able to subdue the fight of the independence movement. Furthermore, in the past years, we have witnessed an increase in the movement's activities and influence in Basque society.

The new Spanish government is formed by a right-wing party (PP), the inheritor of Franco's ways not just from an ideological point of view. This government is putting into practice a new strategy of harassment not only on the independence movement but on all and everyone of our identity's characteristics, beginning with our language.

Within this government's strategy we include the political criminalistion of Herri Batasuna's 23-member National Executive, whose trial concluded with a sentence of seven years imprisonment for each of us.

It is not by chance they've used the `excuse' of us trying to divulge ETA's peace proposal in order to condemn us. In this proposal ETA offered the Spanish government the chance to open a process of negotiations. The starting point of these negotiations would be the government recognition of the existence of the Basque nation and, consequently, its right to self-determination and territorial unity. In exchange ETA offers a ceasefire. Later on, an inclusive, full and democratic debate would be launched in which the Basque Nation on its own would decide its relationship with the Spanish state and the political, social, economic and cultural structures required.

Apart from the absolute judicial absurdity, what worries us is the political statement behind it: the denial of democracy and of the Basque citizenship's capacity to decide its future. But, at the same time, the Spanish authorities' reaction reinforces the validity of our strategy for national construction, social transformation and, above all, peace. Peace understood not as an attempt to finish with the different expressions of violence, but as a solution to the serious political and social problems that generate it.

The Irish Republican Movement has always been a reference of mutual solidarity for us, as Alex Maskey's presence and support during our trial demonstrated. The promising and complex peace process that is taking place in Ireland is another reference. Although when Mr Blair is receiving the Sinn Féin leadership, Mr Aznar (Spanish Prime Minister) sent us to prison for divulging a democratic alternative. From Herri Batasuna we will keep fighting for peace with open hands and a firm commitment not to give up on our fair rights.

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An Phoblacht
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