Spanish elections re-open deep wounds, as ETA terrorists run for political office

A young girl saves a silence minute in honor of Tomas Caballero, his portrait on the banner, a regional politician of the City Hall killed by ETA.
A young girl saves a silence minute in honor of Tomas Caballero, his portrait on the banner, a regional politician of the City Hall killed by ETA. Copyright Alvaro Barrientos/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Alvaro Barrientos/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Laura Llach
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EH Bildu, a pro-independence party, has 44 candidates who have been found guilty of terror-related crimes on its electoral lists for upcoming regional elections in Spain. Seven of them were convicted of murder.


The explosion lasted for just a few seconds.

It was March 1978, and workers at the Lémoniz nuclear power plant in the Basque Country, northern Spain, were finishing their shift when the blast happened. 

Minutes before, they had received a call from José Antonio Torre Altonaga, an electrician at the nuclear power plant.

He said he was no longer a regular worker and identified as a military spokesman for ETA, the terrorist group seeking an independent Basque Country.

Shortly afterwards, ETA detonated a bomb, placed in one of the reactors, killing two young workers and injuring 14 others. 

Torre Altonaga played a key role in the attack. He helped the terrorists access the building and showed them how to reach the generator.

The former terrorist, who served 20 years in prison, is now running as a candidate on the EH Bildu list in Munguía, a municipality in the Basque Country.

Although the terrorist group formally ended its use of violence in 2011, before disarming in 2018, EH Bildu has always been seen as ETA’s political voice.

In this file image made from video provided on Oct. 20, 2011, masked members of the Basque separatist group ETA hold up their fists in unison following a news conference at anAP/AP

The party, active in the north of Spain, has included 44 people convicted of belonging to, or collaborating with, ETA in its electoral lists for upcoming local and regional elections. 

Seven of them were convicted for murder in the same municipality where they were running as candidates. 

EH Bildu's lists have shocked victims, forcing the seven candidates to withdraw from the electoral race.

The decision to withdraw came too late to take their names off the ballot papers, but the seven have promised not to take office if they are actually elected. 

But still, there are 37 people who were found guilty of terror-related crimes running in the lists for election.

“Several candidates even concurred with the name and nickname they had in ETA”, the victim’s associations have reported. This was the case of Torre Altagona, who was better known as “Medius”.

Now, a fierce debate is raging in Spain, forcing the Spanish prime minister to take a position on the issue. "There are things that may be legal, but not decent," said Pedro Sánchez. 

The conservative Popular Party (PP), along with victims of ETA violence, have been pleading for a tightening of the law to avoid former ETA members from running on electoral lists.

The party went as far as to ask for EH Bildu to be criminalised, but their petition got a robust response from the Attorney General's Office: "Bildu constitutes a democratic political formation. It has publicly condemned and still condemns terrorist violence."

The party won't be outlawed. 

Alvaro Barrientos/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved.
In this Feb. 22, 2006 file photo, a Basque policeman looks over the damage after a bomb exploded outside a cannery in an industrial area of Bilbao, northern Spain.Alvaro Barrientos/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved.

Wounds are still open

As soon as Bildu’s electoral lists were made public, Daniel Portero, a victim of ETA violence and Popular Party MP in Madrid filed a complaint along with victims' associations.

They wanted to see whether EH Bildu candidates had completely served their sentence. The Public Prosecutor's Office has just closed the complaint stating that candidates have served their disqualification sentence.

This has left the victims in disbelief.

Portero lost his father, Luis, when he was 26-years-old. Luis was the chief prosecutor of the High Court of Justice of Andalusia, and was shot in the back by the terrorist group in 2000.

“I will never forget the day my father died”, he tells Euronews.


“I remember exactly everything I did from the moment I got up to the moment I went to bed. It seems like it's burned into my memory.

“I will never be able to forget. Especially when Bildu is laughing at the victims and politicians keep bringing up the debate”, he adds.

Although experts confirm EH Bildu’s electoral lists are completely legal, as the former ETA members have served their sentences, they open an ethical debate.

Their candidacies are causing a lot of pain to victims.

This is why Daniel is struggling to believe in the legality of the lists. He argues they go against the 2002 Law on Parties. However, Spanish law establishes that even political ideas going against the constitutional system should have their space in politics.


These ideas are valid as long as they are not defended “by means of an activity that violates democratic principles or fundamental rights of citizens”.

“As a victim of ETA, I feel as if I were a Jew and the Nazis had returned to public life", Daniel says.

“The question here is why the rule of law is doing nothing when a part of society is being offended and humiliated”, he adds.

He also believes EH Bildu’s parliamentary support to the Spanish government coalition, voting in favour of some of Pedro Sanchez’s proposals, is helping the Basque political group keep their electoral lists.

Legality vs. morality

Former ETA members have been running as candidates in the Basque Country for many years.


One of the most notorious was Juan Carlos Yoldi back in 1987, who ran for the presidency of the Basque regional government while he was still in prison.

The former ETA leader himself, José Antonio Urrutikoetxea, known as Josu Ternera, one of Interpol's most wanted criminals, managed to be elected as a member of the Basque parliament.

Alvaro Barrientos/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved
A man looks at a poster with the face of Basque separatist militant Josu Ternera, in his home town of Ugao-Miraballes, Spain.Alvaro Barrientos/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved

“It’s not a legal problem, but a moral and ethical question. Truth is these electoral lists are a very serious offence for the victims” says Ludger Mees, history professor at the University of the Basque Country.

Despite this, Mees rejects the possibility of introducing legal obstacles to the party's lists.

“Not so many years ago, when ETA was still murdering, we asked them to stop killing and become involved in parliamentary politics. We asked them to become a normal political party. Now that they did it, it seems that some people don't like it", he adds.


ETA’s victims, however, don't think this is enough.

"They have many sympathisers who have never committed a single crime, they are the ones who should be running on their lists. What EH Bildu is doing right now is making fun of the victims", Daniel says.

But would legal obstacles to political lists be a useful measure? The professor questions it.

"If we open the door to new conditions, we don’t know when we will be able to close it. Would we end up forbidding any candidacy we don’t like? It's a very dangerous path full of undemocratic consequences", he says.

And he throws a question into the air: didn’t we believe in reintegration?

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