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12 November 2009 Edition

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International: Basque country

Adams welcomes statements by Basque activists and calls for release of political prisoners

RECENT events in the Basque country and the Spanish state have included ongoing acts of violence causing death, abuses of human rights and the arrest of leading Basque political activists including Batasuna leaders Arnaldo Otegi and Rufi Etxeberria. Otegi and four others arrested at the same time remain in custody. Etxeberria and the other four were released on bail. Both men have made important statements on the current political situation in the past week.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has reacted positively to statements by Otegi and Etxeberria saying they were “positive indicators of a willingness to pursue and confront all of the challenges and difficulties inherent in building and developing a peace process”.
In an extensive interview with the Basque newspaper Garra,  Rufi Etxeberria has declared his belief that conditions now exist to promote a democratic process and achieve a new democratic framework in the Basque Country. Crucially he says that, “the democratic process must be based on the Basque people’s decision and so will have to develop without any kind of violence and interference”.
It is widely believed that the Spanish government knew about the new proposals from the Basque independence movement and that the arrests of leading Basque representatives were aimed at preventing it from being launched.
In the Gara interview Rufi Etxeberria says “it’s time to collect the fruits of long years of struggle and not to let them go.” For that to happen he believes that the pro-independence left has to reorganise and strengthen and that it has to become legal. He also believes that a new broad political and social pro-independence movement has to be created to promote a democratic framework and at the same time to develop a pro-independence strategy.
As a third step Etxeberria speaks of the need to build a popular wall to stop repressive attacks by the Spanish Government and to demand the release of all Basque political prisoners.
Finally he says that the negotiation process has to be rebuilt taking into account the experiences and contents of the last process and that a Forum for a Democratic Solution should be put in place.
The interview is a significant political development and comes against a backdrop of widespread political repression.
The pro-independence left has decided to make its proposals available online.  In a statement it said that they wanted everybody to be able to know about it from the original source in a way to defeat the Spanish authorities’ efforts to prevent the new political initiative and to overcome the ongoing media hysteria and criminalisation campaign against the movement.

Commenting on the latest developments Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:
“The ongoing violence, deaths, human rights abuses and arrests will not bring about a resolution of the conflict in the Basque country. But 50 years of conflict indicate that this scenario could continue indefinitely into the future.
“The only victory attainable for the Madrid Government and Basque nationalists is the achievement of a framework and process in which political differences can be addressed and dealt with by purely political means.
“The recent arrest of Arnaldo Otegi and his colleagues is in my view an obstacle to that goal. I have known Arnaldo Otegi for some years now. I believe him to be a peacemaker.
“I believe that view is shared by the many thousands of protestors, of differing political allegiances, who publicly demonstrated against his arrest.
“I believe that recent public positions set out by Otegi and Rufi Etxeberria are positive indicators of a willingness to pursue and confront all of the challenges and difficulties inherent in building and developing a peace process. And this is never going to be easy.
“I am therefore calling for the unconditional release of Arnaldo Otegi and his colleagues to allow them to pursue this important task. They must be given the space to develop the substance of the ‘new phase, new strategies and new instruments’ to achieve ‘a new framework in the Basque activists’ country’.
“Protagonists on both sides have to create that space. But especially Basque independentists who should do this - and understand that they are doing it - for themselves, the Basque people, and for their objectives as opposed to doing it for Madrid.
“Given that space the groundswell of popular Basque opinion in support of Otegi points to the vehicle for future forward movement.”

• The Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign is urging supporters to show their solidarity with the two Belfast-based Basque activists, Iñaki de Juana and Arturo Beñat Villanueva, who are facing extradition charges brought by the Spanish authorities. A support rally will be held outside court the day Iñaki de Juana’s extradition hearing begins, Thursday November 12 at 1pm.


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