Monday, March 05, 2007

Chronicle Of A Peace Process....The Hunger Strike Ends, The Hypocrisy Continues

I am aware that titling this post as being about the Basque peace process might suggest that I am suffering from a sudden attack of over-optimism. On the surface, things remain much as they have been since ETA’s bomb attack at Madrid airport. However, there are small signs that something could yet be happening in this dormant process

Arnaldo Otegi, the leader of Batasuna (ETA’s political wing) made a declaration last week in which he said that neither Batasuna or ETA expected the Spanish government to pay a political price for peace. With an eye on the municipal elections in May, it is widely assumed that Otegi is trying to move to a situation which would permit Batasuna to present itself as a legal party; although time is running very short on this one. The words he pronounced might not seem like very much, but this is a situation where changes in nuance and the emphasis given to certain words occasionally acquire great significance

The government is certainly going to need more than this before making any significant moves, a situation where ETA carry out a bombing every time they are dissatisfied with progress is not sustainable, and in many ways the bombing at Madrid airport has made the situation much more difficult. However, the decision to move ETA hunger striker Iñaki de Juana Chaos to a hospital in San Sebastian and then to let him serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest, has led many to think that perhaps there is some movement after all. It is a decision that could be costly for the government, any leniency towards this prisoner is not very popular. The government did not have to do it, but it has the result of defusing tension in the Basque country and perhaps means more than that; we shall find out in the coming weeks.

The decision to move De Juana Chaos has provoked predictable, and very hypocritical, outrage from the Partido Popular (PP). Madrid, having survived just over a week without an anti-government demonstration is now to get another one this Saturday as the PP seeks to capitalise on what they hope will be a deeply unpopular decision. One significant difference, at least this time the PP is calling the demonstration in its own name instead of using one of their satellite organisations as a front for their protest at what they call "ETA blackmail".

However, those responsible for generating so much of this synthetic outrage over the decision affecting De Juana Chaos also have some explaining to do. During the two terms of Aznar’s administration no fewer than 64 ETA prisoners serving long sentences were released on precisely the same basis as De Juana Chaos would have been had it not been for fresh charges being brought against him. It is also not the first time that this prisoner has been moved closer to the Basque country, during Aznar’s conversations with ETA many prisoners, including De Juana Chaos, were moved to prisons closer to home as part of a gesture by the government.

The reason why the list of those released after serving only part of their sentence is so noteworthy is that all of the ministers responsible for releasing these prisoners continue to occupy important positions in the PP, and will undoubtedly be present on Saturday's march. The interior ministers responsible for these decisions included current PP secretary general Angel Acebes, and the alleged party leader, Mariano Rajoy. The latter, on his journey through several of the most important government positions, left no other visible footprints; so maybe it is fitting that his period in government should be remembered for the quantity of ETA prisoners that he released? The full list can be found here.

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