Basque Separatist ETA Organization Sets Long-Awaited Disarmament Process In Motion

Initially founded in opposition to Franco’s dictatorship in 1959, ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna, meaning “Basque Fatherland and Liberty,” pronounced “etta”) progressively drifted to become a nationalist and separatist organization striving for an independent Basque state in South-western France and Northern Spain. As a Marxist-Leninist movement, the organization adopted, since its inception, a revolutionary rhetoric and did not hesitate to take up arms to fight for what it believed was its due. The tactics employed by the organization have ranged from extortion and kidnappings to bombings and assassinations.

In 1968, an important ETA leader was killed by the police. The group retaliated with its first planned assassination, that of the chief of the secret police of San Sebastian. Since then, over 820 people have been killed in ETA’s attacks and thousands more have been injured. The EU and the United States have, therefore, come to recognize ETA as a terrorist group.

The group declared cease-fires on several occasions, none of which lasted. However, since the last one in 2011 when they announced their desire to cease all armed activity, they have stuck to their word but refused to disarm.

Finally, in April 2017, they declared they would turn over their remaining weapons to the authorities. Spanish authorities remained cautious because it was not the first time such pledge was made, but ETA’s decreased activity over the last few years and their lack of popular support—both due to the gains made by moderate Basque nationalists and their lack of touch with public opinion—added weight to their claim.

As promised, on Saturday 8 April 2017, during an official ceremony in Bayonne, South of France, ETA handed over several documents to the judicial authorities stating 8 caches where their arsenal was stored with the resolute aim to stop the strife. A spokesman for the group who mediated between ETA and French authorities stated that 3.5 tons of weapons were discovered.

This event marks a turning point in the conflict and the 40-year terror campaign of the organization, as it corresponds to the surrender of Europe’s last insurgency. As encouraging as it is, the fact that Europe has become the prey of new terrorist groups motivated by new agendas seems disheartening and offsetting for such a positive development towards peace. Yet, an analysis of the initiative of the BBC offers an optimistic perspective: although sporadic attacks have become deadlier in comparison to previous decades, the total annual deaths from terrorism has significantly decreased. Attacks in the past had lower fatality but were much more frequent, as shown by the fact that ETA was responsible for 3,300 attacks over the past 40 years. It is hopeful that these numbers will continue to fall and that further movements will be made towards peace.