Saturday, October 29, 2016


ETA is an armed, nationalist organisation based in the País Vasco - Basque Country or Euskadi - in Spain. It kidnapped, murdered and bombed in an attempt to gain independence for the whole Basque region, which includes Navarre and parts of France. Originally formed, in 1959, to promote Basque culture. ETA stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or Basque Country and Freedom in the local Euskera language.

Spanish military, police, prison officers, politicians, judges and prosecutors, critical journalists or university lecturers and ex ETA members who spoke against the group were the principal targets. Guardia Civil barracks, tourist spots, industry and infrastructure were also attacked. Ordinary citizens were the “collateral damage” of many ETA actions. Businesses were forced to pay a "revolutionary tax" or face reprisals. Extortion was the group's main source of funding though ransom and bank robbery also swelled the coffers.

Historically ETA was controlled by a council to oversee three branches responsible for military, political and logistical functions. This structure had to be decentralised because of the success of the Security Forces in infiltrating the organisation and arresting members. Likewise, the small commando groups, which carried out armed operations, were made itinerant to try to avoid capture.

ETA originally had strong social support, particularly during the Franco years, but that dwindled as violence increased and democracy bedded in. By May 2009 polls showed only 1% of the Basques wholeheartedly supported ETA though nearly a third had some sympathy for their aims. There was often loud vocal support for arrested ETA members as a side effect of the Central Government's tactics in fighting them. So much legislation was introduced and so many new powers given to the courts and Security Forces that ordinary Basques perceived this as essentially anti Basque.

Herri Batasuna, the political wing of ETA, was outlawed in 2003 under legislation which made parties that are anti democratic, foment hatred or use violence to achieve their goals, illegal. Since then the Basque Nationalists have constituted several, variously named, political groups, all of which have been declared illegal by the courts, until the formation of EH Bildu in 2012.

ETA began to kill in 1968. Their first victim was a Guardia Civil officer. Since then ETA has killed 829 people and injured thousands. One of their most significant early targets, in 1973, was Admiral Carrero Blanco who was Franco's chosen successor. The years 1978, 1979 and 1980 were ETA's most deadly with 68, 76 and 98 killings respectively. Around that time another paramilitary group called GAL, Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación, began to torture and kill ETA members. When this group was later shown to have Government support it caused a major political scandal. In 1986 ETA planted its first car bomb. The next year the group blew up a Guardia Civil bus, killing twelve, and a 1987 attack on a Hipercor centre in Barcelona killed twenty one and injured forty five. In 1995 ETA failed in an attempt to kill the leader of the Partido Popular, and later President of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar. There was even an abortive attempt on the life of the King, Juan Carlos I. The Madrid train bombings of 2004, now attributed to Moroccan fundamentalists, were originally blamed on ETA. In 2006 it looked as though a ceasefire negotiated by the Zapatero Government was holding until a car bomb exploded at Barajas Airport. Generally though, throughout the noughties, it was the Security Forces which held the upper hand and today there are still some 400 ETA members in prison. These successes were partly due to increased co-operation with the French who had formerly turned a blind eye to ETA  presence on French soil.

A ceasefire announced in 2010, and confirmed as permanent and verifiable by a group of internationally famous politicians in 2011, is still in place.

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