Former Spanish prime minister Felipe González has captured newspaper headlines in Spain for the first time in years following his interview on Sunday with El País. What caught most attention was his declaration that his government once had information concerning the time and place of a meeting of the entire leadership of ETA, and that he decided against blowing them up. The administration led by González has been accused for many years, on good grounds, of having been behind the GAL dirty war against ETA in the 1980's. The GAL group carried out kidnappings and assassinations, frequently involving people who had no connection to ETA at all, and their activities probably gave a significant boost to the Basque group given that they didn't need to invent an argument about state terrorism.
González declared that he wasn't sure whether he had made the right decision, the presumed logic behind his doubts being that organising such an act would have dealt a potentially fatal blow against ETA. It's unlikely, given the way in which ETA has so far survived several times the detention of its leadership. ETA in the 1980's was a much stronger organisation than it is at the moment. It's fairly clear from the tone of the interview that González regarded the decision as a strategic question rather than one involving any questioning of whether this is an appropriate way to respond to terrorism. More interesting in some ways was what he had to say about the GAL because his claim that the kidnapping of Segundo Marey was ended on the orders of his then interior minister amounts to what is effectively the first open admission that the GAL's activities were under direct government control. It's one thing that almost everyone believes that to be the case, quite another that it is said in such an open way.
Only González and those who are close to him know why he should choose to speak this way about the issue after so many years. The right-wing press has already been hammering away on the GAL ever since the recent government reshuffle that effectively made Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba the new strongman of Zapatero's administration. Indeed, El Mundo has been headlining with it all week. The dirty war against ETA did not begin with the GAL, but it certainly reached disastrous heights during the time González was in charge. What's depressing is the feeling that may of those who use it as a hammer to beat the PSOE and González would almost certainly have approved of it had their own party been the organizer. That, and the ambivalence shown by so many vocal opponents of terrorism when it is a government that plants the bombs.