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|Euskadi Ta Askatasuna|
|Participant in Basque conflict|
Euskadi Ta Askatasuna's symbol
|Active||31 July 1959 – 2 May 2018
5 September 2010 (extant ceasefire)
8 April 2017 (disarmament)
2 May 2018 (dissolution)
|Headquarters||Greater Basque Country|
|Area of operations||Principally Spain
France (largely as operative base and safe haven)
|Size||50 free members (300+ imprisoned)|
ETA (Basque: [eta]; Spanish: [ˈeta]), an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque: [eus̺kaði ta as̺katas̺una]; "Basque Homeland and Liberty"), was an armed leftist Basque nationalist and separatist organization in the Basque Country (in northern Spain and southwestern France). The group was founded in 1959 and later evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a paramilitary group engaged in a violent campaign of bombing, assassinations and kidnappings in the Southern Basque Country and throughout Spanish territory. Its goal was gaining independence for the Basque Country. ETA was the main group within the Basque National Liberation Movement and was the most important Basque participant in the Basque conflict.
Between 1968 and 2010, it killed 829 people (including 340 civilians) and injured thousands more. ETA is classified as a terrorist group by Spain, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and the European Union. This convention is followed by a plurality of domestic and international media, which also refer to the group as "terrorists". There are more than 300 imprisoned members of the group in Spain, France, and other countries.
ETA declared ceasefires in 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2006. On 5 September 2010, ETA declared a new ceasefire that remained in force, and on 20 October 2011, ETA announced a "definitive cessation of its armed activity". On 24 November 2012, it was reported that the group was ready to negotiate a "definitive end" to its operations and disband completely. The group announced on 7 April 2017 that it had given up all its weapons and explosives. On 2 May 2018, ETA made public a letter dated to 16 April 2018 according to which it had "completely dissolved all its structures and ended its political initiative".
ETA has changed its internal structure on several occasions, commonly for security reasons. The group used to have a very hierarchical organization with a leading figure at the top, delegating into three substructures: the logistical, military and political sections. Reports from Spanish and French police point towards significant changes in ETA's structures in recent years. ETA has divided the three substructures into a total of eleven. The change was a response to recent captures, and possible infiltration, by the different law enforcement agencies. ETA's intention is to disperse its members and reduce the impact of detentions.
The leading committee comprises 7 to 11 individuals, and ETA's internal documentation refers to it as Zuba, an abbreviation of Zuzendaritza Batzordea (directorial committee). There is another committee named Zuba-hitu that functions as an advisory committee. The eleven different substructures are: logistics, politics, international relations with fraternal organisations, military operations, reserves, prisoner support, expropriation, information, recruitment, negotiation, and treasury.
ETA's armed operations were organized in different taldes ("groups") or commandos, generally composed of three to five members, whose objective was to conduct attacks in a specific geographic zone. The taldes were coordinated by the cúpula militar ("military cupola"). To supply the taldes, support groups maintained safe houses and zulos (small rooms concealed in forests, garrets or underground, used to store arms, explosives or, sometimes, kidnapped people; the Basque word zulo literally means "hole"). The small cellars used to hide the people kidnapped are named by ETA and ETA's supporters "people's jails". Currently the most common commandos are itinerant, not linked to any specific area, and thus are more difficult to capture.
Among its members, ETA distinguishes between legales/legalak ("legal ones"), those members who do not have police records and live apparently normal lives; liberados ("liberated") members known to the police that are on ETA's payroll and working full-time for ETA; and apoyos ("support") who just give occasional help and logistics support to the group when required.
There are also the imprisoned members of the group, serving time scattered across Spain and France, that sometimes still have significant influence inside the organisation; and finally the quemados ("burnt out"), members freed after having been imprisoned or those that are suspected by the group of being under police vigilance. In the past there was also the figure of the deportees, expelled by the French government to remote countries where they live freely. France has since stopped the practice of deporting ETA members to other places than to Spain to be judged. ETA's internal bulletin is named Zutabe ("Column"), replacing the earlier one (1962) Zutik ("Standing").
ETA also promotes the kale borroka ("street fight"), that is, violent acts against public transportation, political parties offices or cultural buildings, destruction of private property of politicians, police, military, journalist, council members, and anyone voicing criticism against ETA, bank offices, menaces, graffiti of political mottoes, and general rioting, usually using Molotov cocktails. These groups are made up mostly of young people, who are directed through youth organisations (such as Jarrai, Haika and Segi). Many of the present-day members of ETA started their collaboration with the group as participants in the kale borroka.
The former political party Batasuna, disbanded in 2003, pursued the same political goals as ETA and did not condemn ETA's use of violence. Formerly known as Euskal Herritarrok and "Herri Batasuna", it was banned by the Spanish Supreme Court as an anti-democratic organisation following the Political Parties Law (Ley de Partidos Políticos), It generally received 10% to 20% of the vote in the Basque Autonomous Community.
Batasuna's political status is controversial. It was considered to be the political wing of ETA. Moreover, after the investigations on the nature of the relationship between Batasuna and ETA by Judge Baltasar Garzón, who suspended the activities of the political organisation and ordered police to shut down its headquarters, the Supreme Court of Spain finally declared Batasuna illegal on 18 March 2003. The court considered proven that Batasuna had links with ETA and that it constituted in fact part of ETA's structure. In 2003, the Constitutional Tribunal upheld the legality of the law.
However, the party itself denies being the political wing of ETA, although double membership – simultaneous or alternative – between Batasuna and ETA is often recorded, such as with the cases of prominent Batasuna leaders like Josu Ternera, Arnaldo Otegi, Jon Salaberria and others.
The Spanish Cortes (the Spanish Parliament) began the process of declaring the party illegal in August 2002 by issuing a bill entitled the Ley de Partidos Políticos which bars political parties that use violence to achieve political goals, promotes hatred against different groups or seek to destroy the democratic system. The bill passed the Cortes with a 304 to 16 vote. Many within the Basque nationalistic movement strongly disputed the Law, which they consider too draconian or even unconstitutional; alleging that any party could be made illegal almost by choice, simply for not clearly stating their opposition to an attack.
Defenders of the new law argue that the Ley de Partidos does not necessarily require responses to individual acts of violence, but rather a declaration of principles explicitly rejecting violence as a means of achieving political goals. Defenders also argue that the ban of a political party is subject to judicial process, with all the guarantees of the State of Law. Batasuna has failed to produce such a statement. As of February 2008[update] other political parties linked to organizations such as Partido Comunista de España (reconstituido) have also been declared illegal, and Acción Nacionalista Vasca and Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK/PCTV, Euskal Herrialdeetako Alderdi Komunista/Partido Comunista de las Tierras Vascas) were declared illegal in September 2008.
A new party called Aukera Guztiak (All the Options) was formed expressly for the elections to the Basque Parliament of April 2005. Its supporters claimed no heritage from Batasuna, asserting that their aim was to allow Basque citizens to freely express their political ideas, even those of independence. On the matter of political violence, Aukera Guztiak stated their right not to condemn some kinds of violence more than others if they did not see fit (in this regard, the Basque National Liberation Movement (MLNV) regards present police actions as violence, torture and state terrorism). Nevertheless, most of their members and certainly most of their leadership were former Batasuna supporters or affiliates. The Spanish Supreme Court unanimously considered the party to be a sequel to Batasuna and declared a ban on it.
After Aukera Guztiak had been banned, and less than two weeks before the election, another political group appeared born from an earlier schism from Herri Batasuna, the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK/PCTV, Euskal Herrialdeetako Alderdi Komunista/Partido Comunista de las Tierras Vascas), a formerly unknown political party which had no representation in the Autonomous Basque Parliament. EHAK made the announcement that they would apply the votes they obtained to sustain the political programme of the now banned Aukera Guztiak platform.
This move left no time for the Spanish courts to investigate EHAK in compliance with the Ley de Partidos before the elections were held. The bulk of Batasuna supporters voted in this election for PCTV, a virtually unknown political formation until then. PCTV obtained 9 seats of 75 (12.44% of votes) at the Basque Parliament. The election of EHAK representatives eventually allowed the programme of the now-illegal Batasuna to continue being represented without having condemned violence as required by the Ley de Partidos.
In February 2011, Sortu, a party described as "the new Batasuna", was launched. Unlike predecessor parties, Sortu explicitly rejects politically motivated violence, including that of ETA. However, on 23 March 2011, the Spanish Supreme Court banned Sortu from registering as a political party on the grounds that it was linked to ETA.
The Spanish transition to democracy from 1975 on and ETA's progressive radicalisation have resulted in a steady loss of support, which became especially apparent at the time of their 1997 kidnapping and countdown assassination of Miguel Ángel Blanco. Their loss of sympathisers has been reflected in an erosion of support for the political parties identified with them. In the 1998 Basque parliament elections Euskal Herritarrok, formerly Batasuna, polled 17.7% of the votes. However, by 2001 the party's support had fallen to 10.0%. There were also concerns that Spain's "judicial offensive" against alleged ETA supporters (two Basque political parties and one NGO were banned in September 2008) constitute a threat to human rights. Strong evidence was seen that a legal network had grown so wide as to lead to the arrest of numerous innocent people. According to Amnesty International, torture was still "persistent", though not "systematic." Inroads could be undermined by judicial short-cuts and abuses of human rights.
The Euskobarometro, the survey carried out by the Universidad del País Vasco (University of the Basque Country), asking about the views of ETA within the Basque population, obtained these results in May 2009: 64% rejected ETA totally, 13% identified themselves as former ETA sympathisers who no longer support the group. Another 10% agreed with ETA's ends, but not their means. 3% said that their attitude towards ETA was mainly one of fear, 3% expressed indifference and 3% were undecided or did not answer. About 3% gave ETA "justified, with criticism" support (supporting the group but criticising some of their actions) and only 1% gave ETA total support. Even within Batasuna voters, at least 48% rejected ETA's violence.
A poll taken by the Basque Autonomous Government in December 2006 during ETA's "permanent" ceasefire showed that 88% of the Basques thought that it was necessary for all political parties to launch a dialogue, including a debate on the political framework for the Basque Country (86%). 69% support the idea of ratifying the results of this hypothetical multiparty dialogue through a referendum. This poll also reveals that the hope of a peaceful resolution to the issue of the constitutional status of the Basque region has fallen to 78% (from 90% in April).
These polls did not cover Navarre, where support for Basque nationalist electoral options is weaker (around 25% of population) or the Northern Basque Country where support is even weaker (around 15% of population).
ETA grew out of a student group called Ekin, founded in the early 1950s, which published a magazine and undertook direct action. ETA was founded on 31 July 1959 as Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom) by students frustrated by the moderate stance of the Basque Nationalist Party. (Originally, the name for the organisation used the word Aberri instead of Euskadi, creating the acronym ATA. However, in some Basque dialects, ata means duck, so the name was changed.)
ETA held their first assembly in Bayonne, France, in 1962, during which a "declaration of principles" was formulated and following which a structure of activist cells was developed. Subsequently, Marxist and third-worldist perspectives developed within ETA, becoming the basis for a political programme set out in Federico Krutwig's 1963 book Vasconia, which is considered to be the defining text of the movement. In contrast to previous Basque nationalist platforms, Krutwig's vision was anti-religious and based upon language and culture rather than race. ETA's third and fourth assemblies, held in 1964 and 1965, adopted an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist position, seeing nationalism and the class struggle as intrinsically connected.
Some sources attribute the 1960 bombing of the Amara station in Donostia-San Sebastian (which killed a 22-month-old child) to ETA, but statistics published by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior have always showed that ETA's first victim was killed in 1968. The 1960 attack was claimed by the Portuguese and Spanish left-wing group DRIL (together with four other very similar bombings committed that same day across Spain, all of them attributed to DRIL), and the attribution to ETA has been considered to be unfounded by the researchers. Police documents dating from 1961, released in 2013, show that the DRIL was indeed the author of the bombing.
ETA's first killing occurred on 7 June 1968, when Guardia Civil member José Pardines Arcay was shot dead after he tried to halt ETA member Txabi Etxebarrieta during a routine road check. Etxebarrieta was chased down and killed as he tried to flee. This led to retaliation in the form of the first planned ETA assassination: that of Melitón Manzanas, chief of the secret police in San Sebastián and associated with a long record of tortures inflicted on detainees in his custody. In December 1970, several members of ETA were condemned to death in the Proceso de Burgos ("Burgos Trial"), but international pressure resulted in their sentences being commuted (a process which, however, had by that time already been applied to some other members of ETA).
In early December 1970, ETA kidnapped the German consul in San Sebastian, Eugen Beilh, in order to exchange him for the Burgos defendants. He was released unharmed on 24 December.
The most significant assassination performed by ETA during Franco's dictatorship was Operación Ogro, the December 1973 bomb assassination in Madrid of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco's chosen successor and president of the government (a position roughly equivalent to being a prime minister). The assassination had been planned for months and was executed by placing a bomb in a tunnel dug below the street where Carrero Blanco's car passed every day. The bomb blew up beneath the politician's car and threw it five stories into the air and over the top of a nearby building onto a balcony in a nearby courtyard.
For some in the Spanish opposition, Carrero Blanco's assassination,i.e., the elimination of Franco's chosen successor was an instrumental step for the subsequent re-establishment of democracy. The government responded with new anti-terrorist laws which gave police greater powers and empowered military tribunals to pass death sentences against those found guilty. However, the last use of capital punishment in Spain when two ETA members were executed in September 1975, eight weeks before Franco's death, sparked massive domestic and international protests against the Spanish government.
Both ETA(m) and ETA(pm) refused offers of amnesty, and instead pursued and intensified their violent struggle. The years 1978–80 were to prove ETA's most deadly, with 68, 76, and 98 fatalities, respectively.
During the Franco dictatorship, ETA was able to take advantage of tolerance by the French government, which allowed its members to move freely through French territory, believing that in this manner they were contributing to the end of Franco's regime. There is much controversy over the degree to which this policy of "sanctuary" continued even after the transition to democracy, but it is generally agreed that currently the French authorities collaborate closely with the Spanish government against ETA.
In the 1980s, ETA(pm) accepted the Spanish government's offer of individual pardons to all ETA prisoners, even those who had committed violent crimes, who publicly abandoned the policy of violence. This caused a new division in ETA(pm) between the seventh and eighth assemblies. ETA VII accepted this partial amnesty granted by the now democratic Spanish government and integrated into the political party Euskadiko Ezkerra ("Left of the Basque Country").
ETA VIII, after a brief period of independent activity, eventually integrated into ETA(m). With no factions existing anymore, ETA(m) revamped the original name of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna.
During the 1980s a "dirty war" ensued by means of the Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL, "Antiterrorist Liberation Groups"), a paramilitary group which billed themselves as counter-terrorist, active between 1983 and 1987. The GAL committed assassinations, kidnappings and torture, not only of ETA members but of civilians supposedly related to those, some of whom turned out to have nothing to do with ETA. 27 people were killed by GAL. GAL activities were a follow-up of similar dirty war actions by death squads, actively supported by members of Spanish security forces and secret services, using names such as Batallón Vasco Español active from 1975 to 1981. They were responsible for the killing of about 48 people.
One consequence of GAL's activities in France was the decision in 1984 by interior minister Pierre Joxe to permit the extradition of ETA suspects to Spain. Reaching this decision had taken 25 years and was critical in curbing ETA's capabilities by denial of previously safe territory in France.
The airing of the state-sponsored "dirty war" scheme and the imprisonment of officials responsible for GAL in the early 1990s led to a political scandal in Spain. The group's connections with the state were unveiled by the Spanish journal El Mundo, with an investigative series leading to the GAL plot being discovered and a national trial initiated. As a consequence, the group's attacks since the revelation have generally been dubbed state terrorism.
In 1997 the Spanish Audiencia Nacional court finished its trial, which resulted in convictions and imprisonment of several individuals related to the GAL, including civil servants up to the highest levels of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) government, such as former Homeland Minister José Barrionuevo. Premier Felipe González was quoted as saying that the constitutional state has to defend itself "also in the sewers" (El Estado de derecho también se defiende en las cloacas) something which, for some, indicated at least his knowledge of the scheme. However, his involvement with the GAL could never be proven.
These events marked the end of the armed "counter-terrorist" period in Spain and no major cases of foul play on the part of the Spanish government after 1987 (when GAL ceased to operate) have been proven in courts.
According to the radical nationalist group, Euskal Memoria, between 1960 and 2010 there were 465 deaths in the Basque Country due to (primarily Spanish) "state violence". This figure is considerably higher than those given elsewhere, which are usually between 250 and 300. Critics of ETA cite only 56 members of that organisation killed by state forces since 1975.
ETA members and supporters routinely claim torture at the hands of Spanish police forces. While these claims are hard to verify, some convictions are based on confessions while prisoners are held incomunicado and without access to a lawyer of their choice, for a maximum of five days. These confessions are routinely repudiated by the defendants during trials as having been extracted under torture. There have been some successful prosecutions of proven tortures during the "dirty war" period of the mid-1980s, although the penalties have been considered by Amnesty International as unjustifiably light and lenient with co-conspirators and enablers.
In this regard, Amnesty International has shown concern for the continuous disregard on the recommendations issued by the agency to prevent the alleged abuses to possibly take place. Also in this regard, ETA's manuals have been found instructing its members and supporters to claim routinely that they had been tortured while detained. Unai Romano's case has been very controversial. Pictures of him with a symmetrically swollen face of uncertain etiology were published after his incommunicado period leading to claims of police abuse and torture. Martxelo Otamendi, the ex-director of the Basque newspaper Euskaldunon Egunkaria, decided to bring charges in September 2008 against the Spanish Government in Strasbourg Court for "not inspecting properly" torture denounced cases.
As a result of ETA's violence, threats and killings of journalists, Reporters Without Borders has included Spain in all six editions of its annual watchlist on press freedom. Thus, this NGO has included ETA in its watchlist "Predators of Press Freedom".
ETA performed their first car bomb assassination in Madrid in September 1985, resulting in one death (American citizen Eugene Kent Brown, Johnson & Johnson employee) and sixteen injuries; the Plaza República Dominicana bombing in July 1986 killed 12 members of the Guardia Civil and injured 50; on 19 June 1987, the Hipercor bombing was an attack in a shopping center in Barcelona, killing twenty-one and injuring forty-five; in the last case, entire families were killed. The horror caused then was so striking that ETA felt compelled to issue a communiqué stating that they had given warning of the Hipercor bomb, but that the police had declined to evacuate the area. The police claim that the warning came only a few minutes before the bomb exploded.
In 1986 Gesto por la Paz (known in English as Association for Peace in the Basque Country) was founded; they began to convene silent demonstrations in communities throughout the Basque Country the day after any violent killing, whether by ETA or by GAL. These were the first systematic demonstrations in the Basque Country against political violence. Also in 1986, in Ordizia, ETA shot down María Dolores Katarain, known as "Yoyes", while she was walking with her infant son. Yoyes was a former member of ETA who had abandoned the armed struggle and rejoined civil society: they accused her of "desertion" because of her taking advantage of the Spanish reinsertion policy which granted amnesty to those prisoners who publicly refused political violence (see below).
On 12 January 1988, all Basque political parties except ETA-affiliated Herri Batasuna signed the Ajuria-Enea pact with the intent of ending ETA's violence. Weeks later on 28 January, ETA announced a 60-day "ceasefire", later prolonged several times. Negotiations known as the Mesa de Argel ("Algiers Table") took place between the ETA representative Eugenio Etxebeste ("Antxon"), and the then PSOE government of Spain but no successful conclusion was reached, and ETA eventually resumed the use of violence.
During this period, the Spanish government had a policy referred to as "reinsertion", under which imprisoned ETA members whom the government believed had genuinely abandoned violence could be freed and allowed to rejoin society. Claiming a need to prevent ETA from coercively impeding this reinsertion, the PSOE government decided that imprisoned ETA members, who previously had all been imprisoned within the Basque Country, would instead be dispersed to prisons throughout Spain, some as far from their families as in the Salto del Negro prison in the Canary Islands. France has taken a similar approach.
In the event, the only clear effect of this policy was to incite social protest, especially from nationalists and families of the prisoners, claiming cruelty of separating family members from the insurgents. Much of the protest against this policy runs under the slogan "Euskal Presoak – Euskal Herrira" (Basque prisoners to the Basque Country, by "Basque prisoners" only ETA members are meant). It has to be noted that almost in any Spanish jail there is a group of ETA prisoners, as the number of ETA prisoners makes it difficult to disperse them.
Gestoras pro Amnistía/Amnistiaren Aldeko Batzordeak ("Pro-Amnesty Managing Assemblies", currently illegal), later Askatasuna ("Freedom") and Senideak ("The family members") provided support for prisoners and families. The Basque Government and several Nationalist town halls granted money on humanitarian reasons for relatives to visit prisoners. The long road trips have caused accidental deaths that are protested against by Nationalist Prisoner's Family supporters.
During the ETA ceasefire of the late 1990s, the PSOE government brought back to the mainland the prisoners on the islands and in Africa. Since the end of the ceasefire, ETA prisoners have not been sent back to overseas prisons. Some Basque authorities have established grants for the expenses of visiting families.
Another Spanish "counter-terrorist" law puts suspected terrorist cases under the central tribunal Audiencia Nacional in Madrid, due to the threats by the group over the Basque courts. Under Article 509 suspected terrorists are subject to being held "incommunicado" for up to thirteen days, during which they have no contact with the outside world other than through the court-appointed lawyer, including informing their family of their arrest, consultation with private lawyers or examination by a physician other than the coroners. In comparison, the habeas corpus term for other suspects is three days.
In 1992, ETA's three top leaders—"military" leader Francisco Mujika Garmendia ("Pakito"), political leader José Luis Alvarez Santacristina ("Txelis") and logistical leader José María Arregi Erostarbe ("Fiti"), often referred to collectively as the "cúpula" of ETA or as the Artapalo collective—were arrested in the northern Basque town of Bidart, which led to changes in ETA's leadership and direction.
After a two-month truce, ETA adopted even more radical positions. The principal consequence of the change appears to have been the creation of the "Y Groups", formed by young militants of ETA parallel groups (generally minors), dedicated to so-called "kale borroka"—street struggle—and whose activities included burning buses, street lamps, benches, ATMs, garbage containers, and throwing Molotov cocktails. The appearance of these groups was attributed by many to the supposed weakness of ETA, which obliged them to resort to minors to maintain or augment their impact on society after arrests of leading militants, including the "cupola". ETA also began to menace leaders of other parties besides rival Basque nationalist parties.
In 1995, the armed group again launched a peace proposal. The so-called "Democratic Alternative" replaced the earlier KAS Alternative as a minimum proposal for the establishment of Euskal Herria. The Democratic Alternative offered the cessation of all armed ETA activity if the Spanish-government would recognize the Basque people as having sovereignty over Basque territory, the right to self-determination and that it freed all ETA members in prison. The Spanish government ultimately rejected this peace offer as it would go against the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Changing the constitution was not considered.
Also in 1995 came a failed ETA car bombing attempt directed against José María Aznar, a conservative politician who was leader of the then-opposition Partido Popular (PP) and was shortly after elected to the presidency of the government; there was also an abortive attempt in Majorca on the life of King Juan Carlos I. Still, the act with the largest social impact came the following year. 10 July 1997, PP council member Miguel Ángel Blanco was kidnapped in the Basque town of Ermua, with the separatist group threatening to assassinate him unless the Spanish government met ETA's demand of starting to bring all ETA's inmates to prisons of the Basque Country within two days after the kidnapping.
This demand was not met by the Spanish government and after three days Miguel Ángel Blanco was found shot dead when the deadline expired. More than six million people took out to the streets to demand his liberation, with massive demonstrations occurring as much in the Basque regions as elsewhere in Spain, chanting cries of "Assassins" and "Basques yes, ETA no". This response came to be known as the "Spirit of Ermua".
Later came acts of violence such as the 6 November 2001 car bomb in Madrid which injured 65 people, and attacks on football stadiums and tourist destinations throughout Spain.
The 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA appeared to have dealt a hard blow to ETA, owing to the worldwide toughening of "anti-terrorist" measures (such as the freezing of bank accounts), the increase in international police coordination, and the end of the toleration some countries had, up until then, extended to ETA. In addition, in 2002 the Basque nationalist youth movement, Jarrai, was outlawed and the law of parties was changed outlawing Herri Batasuna, the "political arm" of ETA (although even before the change in law, Batasuna had been largely paralysed and under judicial investigation by judge Baltasar Garzón).
With ever-increasing frequency, attempted ETA actions have been frustrated by Spanish security forces.
On 24 December 2003, in San Sebastián and in Hernani, National Police arrested two ETA members who had left dynamite in a railroad car prepared to explode in Chamartín Station in Madrid. On 1 March 2004, in a place between Alcalá de Henares and Madrid, a light truck with 536 kg of explosives was discovered by the Guardia Civil.
ETA was initially blamed for the 2004 Madrid bombings by the outgoing government and large sections of the press. However, the group denied responsibility and Islamic fundamentalists from Morocco were eventually convicted. The judicial investigation currently states that there is no relationship between ETA and the Madrid bombings.
In the context of negotiation with the Spanish government, ETA has declared what it has described as "truce" a number of times since its creation.
On 22 March 2006, ETA sent a DVD message to the Basque Network Euskal Irrati-Telebista and the journals Gara and Berria with a communiqué from the group announcing what it called a "permanent ceasefire" that was broadcast over Spanish TV.
Talks with the group were then officially opened by Spanish Presidente del Gobierno José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
These took place all over 2006, not free from incidents such as an ETA cell stealing some 300 handguns, ammunition and spare parts in France in October 2006. or a series of warnings made by ETA such as the one of 23 September, when masked ETA militants declared that the group would "keep taking up arms" until achieving "independence and socialism in the Basque country", which were regarded by some as a way to increase pressure on the talks, by others as a tactic to reinforce ETA's position in the negotiations.
Finally, on 30 December 2006 ETA detonated a van bomb after three confusing warning calls, in a parking building at the Madrid Barajas international airport. The explosion caused the collapse of the building and killed two Ecuadorian immigrants who were napping inside their cars in the parking building. At 6:00 pm, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero released a statement stating that the "peace process" had been discontinued.
In January 2008, ETA stated that its call for independence is similar to that of the Kosovo status and Scotland. In the week of 8 September 2008, two Basque political parties were banned by a Spanish court for their secretive links to ETA. In another case in the same week, 21 people were convicted whose work on behalf of ETA prisoners actually belied secretive links to the armed separatists themselves.ETA reacted to these actions by placing three major car bombs in less than 24 hours in northern Spain.
In April 2009 Jurdan Martitegi was arrested, making him the fourth consecutive ETA military chief to be captured within a single year, an unprecedented police record, further weakening the group. Violence surged in the middle of 2009, with several ETA attacks leaving three people dead and dozens injured around Spain.
The Basque newspaper Gara published an article that suggested that ETA member Jon Anza could have been killed and buried by Spanish police in April 2009. The central prosecutor in the French town of Bayonne, Anne Kayanakis, announced, as the official version, that the autopsy carried out on the body of Jon Anza – a suspected member of the armed Basque group ETA, missing since April 2009 – revealed no signs of having been beaten, wounded or shot, which should rule out any suspicions that he died from unnatural causes. Nevertheless, that very magistrate denied the demand of the family asking for the presence of a family doctor during the autopsy. After this, Jon Anza's family members asked for a second autopsy to be carried out.
In December 2009, Spain raised its terror alert after warning that ETA could be planning major attacks or high-profile kidnappings during Spain's European Union presidency. The next day, after being asked by the opposition, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said that warning was part of a strategy.
On 5 September 2010, ETA declared a new ceasefire, its third, after two previous ceasefires were ended by the group. A spokesperson speaking on a video announcing the ceasefire said the group wished to use "peaceful, democratic means" to achieve its aims, though it was not specified whether the ceasefire was considered permanent by the group. ETA claimed that it had made the decision to initiate a ceasefire several months prior to the announcement. In part of the video, the spokesperson said that the group was "prepared today as yesterday to agree to the minimum democratic conditions necessary to put in motion a democratic process, if the Spanish government is willing."
The announcement was met with a mixed reaction; Basque nationalist politicians responded positively, and said that the Spanish and international governments should do the same, while the Spanish interior counselor of Basque, Rodolfo Ares, said that the commitment did not go far enough. He said that he considered ETA's statement "absolutely insufficient" because it did not commit to a complete termination of what Ares considered "terrorist activity" by the group.
On 10 January 2011, ETA declared that their September 2010 ceasefire would be permanent and verifiable by international observers. Observers urged caution, pointing out that ETA had broken permanent ceasefires in the past, whereas Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (who left office in December 2011) demanded that ETA declare that it had given up violence once and for all. After the declaration, Spanish press started speculating of a possible Real IRA-type split within ETA, with hardliners forming a new more violent offshoot led by "Dienteputo".
On 21 October 2011, ETA announced a cessation of armed activity via video clip sent to media outlets following the Donostia-San Sebastián International Peace Conference, which was attended by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Taoiseach of Ireland Bertie Ahern, former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland (an international leader in sustainable development and public health), former Interior Minister of France Pierre Joxe, president of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams (a Teachta Dála in Dáil Éireann), and British diplomat Jonathan Powell, who served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff.
They all signed a final declaration that was supported also by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the former US President and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter, and the former US senator and former US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George J. Mitchell. The meeting did not include Spanish or French government representatives.
The day after the ceasefire, in a contribution piece to the New York Times, Tony Blair indicated that lessons in dealing with paramilitary separatist groups can be learned from the way in which the Spanish administration handled ETA. Blair wrote, “governments must firmly defend themselves, their principles and their people against terrorists. This requires good police and intelligence work as well as political determination. [However], firm security pressure on terrorists must be coupled with offering them a way out when they realize that they cannot win by violence. Terrorist groups are rarely defeated by military means alone”. Blair also suggested that Spain will need to discuss weapon decommissioning, peace strategies, reparations for victims, and security with ETA, as Britain has discussed with the Provisional IRA.
ETA has declared ceasefires many times before, most significantly in 1999 and 2006, but the Spanish government and media outlets expressed particularly hopeful opinions regarding the permanence of this proclamation. Spanish premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero described the move as "a victory for democracy, law and reason". Additionally, the effort of security and intelligence forces in Spain and France are cited by politicians as the primary instruments responsible for the weakening of ETA. The optimism may come as a surprise considering ETA’s failure to renounce the independence movement, which has been one of the Spanish government’s requirements. ETA’s ceasefire video ended with the assertion that the struggle for the Basque homeland continues.
Less optimistically, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the center-right People's Party expressed the need to push for the full dissolution of ETA. The People's Party has emphasized the obligation of the state to refuse negotiations with separatist movements since former Prime Minister José María Aznar was in office. Aznar was responsible for banning media outlets seen as subversive to the state and Batasuna, the political party of ETA. Additionally, in preparation for his party’s manifesto, on 30 October 2011, Rajoy declared that the People's Party would not negotiate with ETA under threats of violence nor announcements of the group’s termination, but would instead focus party efforts on remembering and honoring victims of separatist violence.
While ETA pledged to refrain from a violent separatist movement, the separatist movement was not denounced. The ETA announcement reinforced the struggle for the Basque homeland, but through the use of democratic means. This event may not alter the goals of the Basque separatist movement, but will change the method of the fight for a more autonomous state.[according to whom?] Negotiations with the newly elected administration may prove difficult with the return to the center-right People's Party, which is replacing Socialist control, due to pressure from within the party to refuse all ETA negotiations.
In September 2016, French police stated that they did not believe ETA had made progress in giving up arms. In March 2017, well-known French-Basque activist Jean-Noel Etxeverry was quoted as having told Le Monde, "ETA has made us responsible for the disarmament of its arsenal, and by the afternoon of 8 April, ETA will be completely unarmed." On 7 April, the BBC reported that ETA would disarm "tomorrow", including a photo of a stamped ETA letter attesting to this. The French police found 3.5 tonnes of weapons on 8 April, the following day, at the caches handed over by ETA.
ETA announced its full dissolution effective from 2 May 2018.
ETA's targets expanded from military or police-related personnel and their families, to a wider array, which included the following:[clarification needed]
ETA's tactics included:
These bombs sometimes killed family members of ETA's target victim and bystanders. When the bombs were large car-bombs seeking to produce large damage and terror, they were generally announced by one or more telephone calls made to newspapers speaking in the name of ETA. Charities (usually Detente Y Ayuda—DYA) were also used to announce the threat if the bomb was in a populated area. The type of explosives used in these attacks were initially Goma-2 or self-produced ammonal. After a number of successful robberies in France, ETA began using Titadyne.
With its attacks against what they consider "enemies of the Basque people", ETA has killed over 820 people since 1968 to date, including more than 340 civilians. It has maimed hundreds more and kidnapped dozens.
Its ability to inflict violence has declined steadily since the group was at its strongest during the late 1970s and 1980 (when it killed 92 people in a single year). After decreasing peaks in the fatal casualties in 1987 and 1991, 2000 remains to date as the last year when ETA killed more than 20 in a single year. Since 2002 to date,[when?] the yearly number of ETA's fatal casualties has been reduced to single digits.
Similarly, over the 1990s and, especially, during the 2000s (decade), fluid cooperation between the French and Spanish police, state-of-the-art tracking devices and techniques and, apparently, police infiltration have allowed increasingly repeating blows to ETA's leadership and structure (between May 2008 and April 2009 no less than four consecutive "military chiefs" were arrested).
ETA operates mainly in Spain, particularly in the Basque Country, Navarre, and (to a lesser degree) Madrid, Barcelona, and the tourist areas of the Spanish Mediterranean coast. To date, about 65% of ETA's killings have been committed in the Basque Country, followed by Madrid with roughly 15%. Navarre and Catalonia also register significant numbers.
Actions in France usually consist of assaults on arsenals or military industries in order to steal weapons or explosives; these are usually stored in large quantities in hide-outs located in the French Basque Country rather than Spain. The French judge Laurence Le Vert has been threatened by ETA and a plot arguably aiming to assassinate her was unveiled. Only very rarely have ETA members engaged in shootings with the French Gendarmerie. This has often occurred mainly when members of the group were confronted at checkpoints.
In spite of this, ETA killed in France on 1 December 2007, two Spanish Civil Guards on counter-terrorist surveillance duties in Capbreton, Landes. This has been its first killing after it ended its 2006 declaration of "permanent ceasefire" and the first killing committed by ETA in France of a Spanish police agent ever since 1976, when they kidnapped, tortured and assassinated two Spanish inspectors in Hendaye.
More recently, 2007 police reports point out that, after the serious blows suffered by ETA and its political counterparts during the 2000s (decade), its budget would have been adjusted to 2,000,000 euros annually.
Although ETA used robbery as a means of financing its activities in its early days, it has since been accused both of arms trafficking and of benefiting economically from its political counterpart Batasuna. Extortion remains ETA's main source of funds.
ETA is considered to form part of what is informally known as the Basque National Liberation Movement, a movement born much after ETA's creation. This loose term refers to a range of political organizations that are ideologically akin, comprising several distinct organizations that promote a type of leftist Basque nationalism that is often referred to by the Basque-language term Ezker Abertzalea (Nationalist Left). Other groups typically considered to belong to this independentist movement are: the political party Batasuna, the nationalist youth organization Segi, the labour union Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak (LAB), and Askatasuna among others. There are often strong interconnections between these groups, double or even triple membership are not infrequent.
There are Basque nationalist parties with similar goals as those of ETA (namely, independence) but who openly reject their violent means. They are: EAJ-PNV, Eusko Alkartasuna, Aralar and, in the French Basque country, Abertzaleen Batasuna. In addition, a number of left-wing parties, such as Ezker Batua, Batzarre and some sectors of the EAJ-PNV party, also support self-determination but are not in favour of independence.
Historically, members of ETA have taken refuge in France, particularly the French Basque Country. The leadership have typically chosen to live in France for security reasons, where police pressure is much less than in Spain. Accordingly, ETA's tactical approach had been to downplay the issue of independence of the French Basque country so as to get French acquiescence for their activities. The French government quietly tolerated the group, especially during Franco's regime, when ETA members could face the death penalty in Spain. In the 1980s, the advent of the GAL still hindered counter-terrorist cooperation between France and Spain, with the French government considering ETA a Spanish domestic problem. At the time, ETA members often travelled between the two countries using the French sanctuary as a base of operations.
With the disbanding of the GAL, the French government changed its position on the matter and in the 1990s initiated the ongoing period of active cooperation with the Spanish government against ETA, including fast-track transfers of detainees to Spanish tribunals that are regarded as fully compliant with European Union legislation on human rights and the legal representation of detainees. Virtually all of the highest ranks within ETA –including their successive "military", "political" or finances chiefs – have been captured in French territory, from where they had been plotting their activities after having crossed the border from Spain.
In response to the new situation, ETA carried out attacks against French policemen and made threats to some French judges and prosecutors. This implied a change from the group's previous low-profile in the French Basque Country, which successive ETA leaders had used to discreetly manage their activities in Spain.
ETA considers its prisoners political prisoners. Until 2003, ETA consequently forbade them to ask penal authorities for progression to tercer grado (a form of open prison that allows single-day or weekend furloughs) or parole. Before that date, those who did so were menaced and expelled from the group. Some were assassinated by ETA for leaving the group and going through reinsertion programs.
The Spanish Government passed the Ley de Partidos Políticos. This is a law barring political parties that support violence and do not condemn terrorist actions or are involved with terrorist groups. The law resulted in the banning of Herri Batasuna and its successor parties unless they explicitly condemned terrorist actions and, at times, imprisoning or trying some of its leaders who have been indicted for cooperation with ETA.
Judge Baltasar Garzón has initiated a judicial procedure (coded as 18/98), aimed towards the support structure of ETA. This procedure started in 1998 with the preventive closure of the newspaper Egin (and its associated radio-station Egin Irratia), accused of being linked to ETA, and temporary imprisoning the editor of its "investigative unit", Pepe Rei, under similar accusations. In August 1999 Judge Baltasar Garzón authorized the reopening of the newspaper and the radio, but they could not reopen due to economic difficulties.
Judicial procedure 18/98 has many ramifications, including the following:
As of June 2007[update], indicted members of the youth movements Haika, Segi and Jarrai have been found guilty (January 2007) of a crime of connivance with terrorism. Most of the other trials are still under process.
On Tuesday 20 May 2008, leading ETA figures were arrested in Bordeaux, France. Francisco Javier López Peña, also known as 'Thierry,' had been on the run for twenty years before his arrest. A final total of arrests brought in six people, including ETA members and supporters, including the ex-Mayor of Andoain, José Antonio Barandiarán, who is rumoured to have led police to 'Thierry'. The Spanish Interior Ministry claimed the relevance of the arrests would come in time with the investigation. Furthermore, the Interior Minister said that those members of ETA now arrested had ordered the latest attacks, and that senior ETA member Francisco Javier López Peña was "not just another arrest because he is, in all probability, the man who has most political and military weight in the terrorist group."
After Lopez Pena's arrest, along with the Basque referendum being put on hold, police work has been on the rise. On 22 July 2008, Spanish police dismantled the most active cell of ETA by detaining nine suspected members of the group. Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said about the arrests: "We can't say this is the only ETA unit but it was the most active, most dynamic and of course the most wanted one." Four days later French police also arrested two suspects believed to be tied to the same active cell. The two suspects were: Asier Eceiza, considered a top aide to a senior ETA operative still sought by police, and Olga Comes, whom authorities have linked to the ETA suspects.
The European Union and the United States list ETA as a terrorist group in their relevant watch lists. ETA has been a Proscribed Organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000 since 29 March 2001. The Canadian Parliament listed ETA as a terrorist group in 2003.
France and Spain have often shown co-operation in the fight against ETA, after France's lack of co-operation during the Franco era. In late 2007, two Spanish guards were shot to death in France when on a joint operation with their French counterparts. Furthermore, in May 2008, the arrests of four people in Bordeaux led to a major breakthrough against ETA, according to the Spanish Interior Ministry.
On 2 October 2008, as ETA activity increased, France increased its pressure on ETA by arresting more ETA suspects, including Unai Fano, María Lizarraga on 23 September, and Esteban Murillo Zubiri in Bidarrain. He had been wanted by the Spanish authorities since 2007 when a Europol arrest warrant was issued against him. French judicial authorities had already ordered that he be held in prison on remand.
Spain has also sought cooperation from the United Kingdom in dealing with ETA-IRA ties. In November 2008, this came to light after Iñaki de Juana Chaos, whose release from prison was canceled on appeal, had moved to Belfast. He was thought to be staying at an IRA safe house while being sought by the Spanish authorities. Interpol notified the judge, Eloy Velasco, that he was in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.