ETA prisoner questions in Spanish elections

ETA prisoner questions in Spanish elections
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‘Goodbye ETA’ the newspaper headlines read. The days immediately following the decision by the armed separatist band in Spain to stop using violence to push for their goals sets new challenges for political parties, because laying down arms does not mean disbanding.

Spanish society remains wary. Basque questions loom large in the campaigning ahead of elections in Spain on 20 November.

At a meeting in the Basque city of San Sebastián, between Alfredo Rubalcaba, the Spanish Socialist party leader and prime ministerial candidate for the general elections, and the heads of the party in the Basque autonomous region, the participants were determined to stick together when they tackle this sensitive subject.

Ramón Jauregui from the prime minister’s office said: “We mustn’t give way on anything. We have to stay united, and build what should be called the resolution of human problems together.”

This concerns ETA supporters’ demands for treatment of ETA prisoners. The socialists feel this must be arranged under a consensus.

Odón Elorza, a member of the Basque Socialist Party, said: “With the agreement of democratic political parties, through application of the law, with certain guarantees… over time, measures will be taken for the reinsertion of the prisoners by legal means.”

And yet the independent left insists that Basques convicted of ETA crimes serve time in prisons in the Basque country, or even be given an amnesty. A sea of demonstrators pressed this demand again in Bilbao on Saturday.

One protest participant said: “We want to bring the prisoners home and start a new way.” The prisoner question is a heavy political burden for any of the parties to resolve.

Analyst Gorka Landaburu said: “ETA did not disband for one very simple reason: it could have but there are 750 of its own people in prisons — 600 in Spain and 150 in France. From its point of view it can’t abandon the prisoners. That is what it will negotiate with the next government. That’s why it won’t dissolve. When it has settled the prisoner problem, then ETA will be history, and will disappear for ever.”

For that to happen, a newly-elected government will need to define a rehabilitation policy that respects the victims of terrorism, requiring that they be recognised by ETA as its victims.

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