Peace in the Basque Country? (Editorial de THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
The Basque Country of Spain and Northern Ireland have always drawn comparisons. In both regions, a small minority has carried out atrocities in the name of a struggle for "independence" that has failed to garner majority support. When their campaigns of terror have become so repugnant as to touch off waves of popular indignation, guerrillas in both suffering lands have sometimes resorted to "peace offensives." Regrettably, they have in the past turned back to killing, either because peace will not achieve their desired results or because their soldiers are too addicted to being "revolutionaries."
This experience should be borne in mind when terrorists offer a truce. In Northern Ireland's case, the IRA's cease-fire was part of complex peace negotiations that have brought the first real hope of normalcy. Though it remains to be seen whether the commitment to the peaceful resolution of that conflict can be sustained (indeed, some of the most vicious sectarian violence has occurred since that process got underway). The Basque terrorists followed their Irish brethren this week in declaring a cease-fire starting from today. While there's reason to welcome that move, it must also be viewed with a measure of skepticism.
The Madrid government knows this better than anyone, and has rightly cautioned prudence. "Time will be the judge of the sincerity, authenticity, the depth of this decision… ETA's very record proves that skepticism is necessary," said Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, the man who oversees the police forces who are in the first line of fire. After 30 years of violence - 23 of them since the death of dictator Francisco Franco - and almost 800 people dead, this guarded response is warranted.
Indeed, ETA's move appears to be more a temporary change of tactics than a shift away from violence. On Saturday, 23 mostly Spanish, but also French, political parties, unions and other groups in the mountainous region that straddles the Franco-Spanish border had signed a declaration calling for a permanent end to the violence and for peace talks. The meeting in the town of Lizarra was clearly inspired by the Northern Irish process, and was even dubbed the "Irish Forum." But the declaration's framers did not get quite what they had asked for ETA did not reject violence and the cease-fire is not permanent; the terrorist group said it would resume its bloody campaign in case of a "confrontation" with the Spanish government.
The cease-fire comes moreover on the eve of the Oct. 25 regional elections, a campaign that ETA's political wing, Herri Batasuna, is fighting on unsure legal footing because the central government is considering outlawing the party. The party has renamed itself Euskal Herritarrok, or Basque People Party, both to ward off being outlawed and as an attempt at a new look. The name changes little; the party has never condemned an ETA atrocity. The cease-fire, many Spaniards fear, is nothing more than campaign help for HB.
Madrid knows of course that the ETA move puts the government in a quandary. Embrace the ETA cease-fire and the declaration's call for peace talks, and the terrorist group will try to exact unacceptable concessions, leading all the way to independence; reject it off-hand, however, and the government could be criticized for refusing a chance at peace.
But as it considers its options, the Spanish government of Jose Maria Aznar would do well to avoid concessions that will come back to haunt it. For example, Mr. Aznar might wish to steer clear of emulating the decision of Tony Blair's British government, which agreed to the release of so-called "political" prisoners, a move which could lead to a strengthened terrorist network stretching across a borderless Europe. Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams rushed to offer his advice yesterday, telling the Spanish government "Don't prevaricate." ETA heavyweights no doubt appreciated the boost. But Spanish leaders in the past have followed a perfectly good rule: There's nothing here to negotiate.
Editorial publicado por THE WALL STREET JOURNAL el 18 de septiembre de 1998. Por su interés informativo reproducimos íntegramente su contenido.