Monday, April 02, 2007

Chronicle Of A Peace Process....Too Little Too Late

It looks like there is little hope of any resumption of the peace process for the Basque Country now, the latest actions by the main players involved do not suggest any sign of real movement. The government, with the decision to be lenient in the case of Iñaki de Juana Chaos, and with a decision not to press charges in a case against Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi, has acted to defuse tension and remove excuses for further violence. However, there does not appear to be any connection between these decisions and a resumption of the peace process.

Batasuna are now attempting to present candidates at May's municipal elections under a new name, Abertzale Sozialisten Batasuna, and without explicitly making the commitments that have been demanded for their legalisation. The government is responding by opposing the acceptance of the new platform under the Ley de Partidos, the law originally used to declare Batasuna illegal. At the same time there has been increased police pressure on ETA with the last few days seeing arrests of what is said to be one of their commandos in the Basque Country.

The attempts to judicially supervise Batasuna's activities can lead to some genuinely surreal situations. A meeting was convened for the weekend which was intended to be a launching of the new platform. However, judge Baltasar Garzón intervened with a ruling that said the rally could go ahead only if the organisers gave a commitment not to mention the new party! A commitment was given and the rally went ahead without incident. So you can meet, but don't mention the name you are meeting under.

The difficulty of applying the law on political parties only helps to emphasise what a bad law it is. Effectively it is permitting the prohibition of organisations on the grounds that they have not pronounced on an issue, in this case by not explicitly condemning ETA and the use of violence. It has also been a law which has left judges taking what are formally judicial decisions, but which are really highly political decisions. In many ways the "new" Batasuna complies with the requirements of the law, with a commitment given to using democratic methods to achieve their aims. However, in reality it is clear that they are not going to achieve legality until either ETA make it clear that they have rejected terrorism, or unless Batasuna explicitly reject ETA. All it takes at the moment is for the state prosecutors to demand the banning of the organisation for the judges to back that position. it is a law which may bring satisfaction to many, but has set a tremendously dangerous precedent and has done nothing to bring an end to terrorism.

In any case, Batasuna will still be present at the elections, either via the presentation of local municipal platforms, or via the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK), a tiny legal organisation which effectively offered itself as an alternative for representing Batasuna's voters. The calls to make them illegal because they did this again show how dangerous it is to pass laws of this kind, as the prohibition can start to affect those who oppose the Ley de Partidos, but who do not necessarily have connections to ETA.

The question now is how ETA are going to react to the likely decision to prevent Batasuna from presenting themselves at the elections. Already there is talk of an increased risk of an ETA attack, the result of which would almost certainly be an end to any talk of peace for at least what remains of the current parliament. The government is going to be less willing to take any risks on negotiations as the general elections approach, nothing but cast-iron guarantees on an end to ETA would tempt them at the moment as they cannot afford to give further ammunition to the Partido Popular on this issue. The bomb at Barajas airport in Madrid at the end of December continues to have its effect, and none of the consequences of that decision to break the ceasefire have been good for the Basque Country.

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