ETA, which stands for “Basque Homeland and Freedom” in the Basque language, last set off a bomb in 2006, killing two people at Madrid’s Barajas airport, ending a nine-month truce. With this attack, the Spanish government broke off all dialogue with ETA.
The Spanish and French authorities redoubled their efforts against the armed group, capturing its operational leaders, each time one was replaced, and arresting hundreds of suspects in connection with ETA violence.
The vacuum of communication between Madrid and the separatist band brought international efforts in to try to resolve the conflict.
South African lawyer Brian Currin created a commission team to mediate, though the Spanish and French governments look on its involvement with reservation.
This year in January, a weakened ETA again declared an unlimited truce, unilaterally. Madrid demanded an unequivocal renunciation of its armed struggle and the breaking up of the organisation as a condition to resume negotiation of terms.
ETA in September released a collective statement by 700 of its members in prison that they would lay down weapons if a deal were reached.
Almost simultaneously, the largely illegal Basque revolutionary, nationalist organisation Ekin announced it was ceasing activities.
Spain’s interior minister Antonio Camacho said Ekin had entered the final stretch, which would lead to its irreversible dissolution. He said: “The group is beginning to realise it can never again resort to barbarity to influence the life of the country.”
José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist government sent no official to the San Sebastian conference (in the Basque region). Madrid is taking a wait-and-see stance. The opposition conservatives, the Partido Popular (People’s Party) have fiercely criticised the conference.
The head of the party in the Basque region, Antonio Basagoiti, said he thought it would “inflame the price of peace, reinforce the radical separatists Batasuna, and make disbanding ETA harder.”
The conference comes as campaigning moves into higher gear for Spain’s legislative elections next month, amid a climate of popular revolt against the government’s austerity plans. Public surveys predict the conservatives will win overwhelmingly.
The Partido Popular demands the disbanding of ETA unconditionally.