Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA (Basque for "Basque Homeland and Freedom"; ), is an illegal armed Basque nationalist separatist organisation. Founded in 1959, it evolved from a group advocating traditional cultural ways to an armed group demanding Basque independence.
According to official figures and ETA communiqués, since 1968 ETA has killed over 800 people and maimed hundreds more. It has committed dozens of kidnappings over this period as well. The group is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by both the Spanish and French authorities as well as the European Union as a whole, and the United States. More than 700 members of the organisation are incarcerated in prisons in Spain, France, and other countries.
ETA's motto is Bietan jarrai ("Keep up on both"). This refers to the two figures in its symbol, a snake (representing politics) wrapped around an axe (representing armed fight).
ETA has changed its internal structure on several occasions for different reasons, commonly security ones. The group used to have a very hierarchical organisation with a leading figure at the top, delegating into three substructures: the logistical, military and political sections. Reports from the Spanish, Basque and French police point towards significant changes in ETA's structures in recent years. ETA has divided the three substructures into a total of eleven. The change was a response to recent captures, and possible infiltration, by the different law enforcement agencies. The ETA's intention is to disperse its members and reduce the impact of detentions.
The leading committee is formed by 7 to 11 individuals, and ETA's internal documentation refers to it as Zuba, an abbreviation of Zuzendaritza Batzordea (directorial committee). There is another committee named Zuba-hitu that functions as an advisory committee. The eleven different substructures are: logistics, politics, international relations with fraternal organisations, military operations, reserves, prisoner support, expropriation, information, recruitment, negotiation and treasury.
ETA's armed operations are organized in different taldes ("groups") or commandos, generally composed of three to five members, whose objective is to conduct attacks in a specific geographic zone. The taldes are coordinated by the cúpula militar ("military cupola"). To supply the taldes, support groups maintain safe houses and zulos, the Basque word zulo literally means "hole". Zulos are small rooms concealed in forests, house attics or undergrounds, used to store arms, explosives or, sometimes, kidnapped people. The small cellars used to hide the people kidnapped are named by ETA and ETA's supporters "people's jails". Currently the most common commandos are the itinerant ones, not linked to any specific area, and thus, more difficult to capture.
Among its members, ETA distinguishes between legales/legalak ("legal ones"), those members who do not have police records and live apparently normal lives; liberados ("liberated") members known to the police that are on ETA's payroll and working full time for ETA; and apoyos("support") who just give punctual help and logistics support to the organisation when required.. There are also the imprisoned members of the organisation, serving time scattered across Spain and France, that sometimes still have significant influence inside the organisation; and finally the quemados ("burned out"), members freed after having been imprisoned or those that the organisation suspect under police vigilance. In the past there was also the figure of the deportees, expelled by the French government to remote countries where they live freely. France has since stopped the practice of deporting ETA members to other places than to Spain to be judged.
ETA also promotes the kale borroka ("street fight"), that is, violent acts against public transportation, political parties offices or cultural buildings, destruction of private property of politicians, police, military, journalist, council members, and anyone voicing critics against ETA, bank offices, menaces, graffiti of political mottos, and general rioting, usually using Molotov cocktails. These groups are made up mostly of young people, who are directed through youth organisations (such as Jarrai, Haika and Segi). Many of the present-day members of ETA started their collaboration with the organisation as participants in the kale borroka.
The political party Batasuna (formerly known as Euskal Herritarrok and "Herri Batasuna"), presently banned by the Spanish Law as a non-democratic organisation (Ley de Partidos Políticos), pursues the same political goals as ETA and does not condemn ETA's use of violence. It generally received 8 to 15% of the vote in the Basque Autonomous Community .
Batasuna's political status has been a very controversial issue. It is considered to be the political wing of ETA, although the party itself denies that this is the case, despite the fact that double membership -simultaneous or alternative- between Batasuna and ETA is often recorded, such as with the cases of prominent Batasuna leaders like Josu Ternera, Arnaldo Otegi, Jon Salaberria and others. The Spanish Cortes (the Spanish Parliament) began the process of declaring the party illegal in August 2002 by issuing a bill entitled the Ley de Partidos Políticos which bars political parties that use violence to achieve political goals, promotes hatred against different groups or seek to destroy the democratic system .
The law passed Congress with a 304 to 16. Many within Basque nationalism strongly disputed the Law, which they consider too draconian or even unlawful; alleging that any party could be made illegal almost by choice, simply for not clearly stating their opposition to an attack. Defenders of the new law argue that the Ley de Partidos does not necessarily require responses to individual acts of violence, but rather a declaration of principles explicitly rejecting violence as a means of achieving political goals anathema to the state. Batasuna has failed to produce such a statement as of February 2008. Other political parties linked to terrorist organizations like the Partido Comunista de España (reconstituido) have also been declared illegal, and Acción Nacionalista Vasca and Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK/PCTV, Euskal Herrialdeetako Alderdi Komunista / Partido Comunista de las Tierras Vascas) are going through the process that may lead to their illegalization.
In a parallel trial, the Judge Baltasar Garzón suspended the activities of Batasuna and its headquarters were shut down by police as the nature of the relationship between the political party and ETA were investigated. The Supreme Court of Spain finally declared Batasuna illegal on March 18, 2003. The court considered proven that Batasuna had links with ETA and that it constituted in fact part of ETA's structure. In 2003 the Constitutional Tribunal upheld the legality of the law.
A new party called Aukera Guztiak (All the Options) was formed ex profeso for the elections to the Basque Parliament of April 2005. Its supporters claimed no heritage from Batasuna, asserting that their aim was to allow Basque citizens to freely express their political ideas, even those of independence. On the matter of political violence, Aukera Guztiak stated their right not to condemn some kinds of violence more than others if they did not see fit (in this regard, the MLNV regards police actions or car accidents involving family members of ETA prisoners in their way to visit them in prison, as violence). Nevertheless, most of their members and certainly most of their leadership were former Batasuna supporters or affiliates. The Spanish Supreme Court unanimously considered the party to be a sequel to Batasuna and declared a ban on it.
After Aukera Guztiak had been banned, and less than two weeks before the election, another political group appeared born from an earlier schism from Herri Batasuna, the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK/PCTV, Euskal Herrialdeetako Alderdi Komunista / Partido Comunista de las Tierras Vascas), a formerly unknown political party which had no representation in the Autonomous Basque Parliament. EHAK made the announcement that they would apply the votes they obtained to sustain the political programme of the now banned Aukera Guztiak platform. This move left no time for the Spanish courts to investigate EHAK in compliance with the Ley de Partidos before the elections were held. The bulk of Batasuna supporters voted in this election for PCTV, a virtually unknown political formation until then. PCTV obtained 9 seats of 75 (12.44% of votes) at the Basque Parliament . The election of EHAK representatives eventually allowed the programme of the illegalized Batasuna to continue being represented without having condemned violence as required by the Ley de Partidos.
The roots of ETA's support lie in attempts of the dictator Franco to suppress Basque nationalism. Since some Basque nationalists had sided with the Republican government in the Spanish Civil War, Franco restricted virtually any public expressions of Basque culture and banned all expressions of Basque nationalism, including public display of the nationalist flag (the Ikurriña), the celebration of nationalist holidays, speaking the Basque language in public or teaching the language in schools and even baptizing children with certain Basque names. However, the territories which were deemed as "loyal" during the Civil War to the Franco uprising were allowed to keep their limited self-government after his victory. Those were Álava and Navarre, where Franco supporters (mostly Carlists) sided with Franco from the start, seeing Franco as a leader who would end anticlericalism and violence against the Catholic Church. Conversely, Biscay and Guipuscoa were considered "rebellious" for having sided with Republican Spain during the Civil War. Those regions therefore saw their fueros abrogated by the Francoist regime.
During the Franco era, ETA had considerable public support beyond the Basque populace, reaching its peak after the 'Burgos Trials' of 1970—which drew international attention to the organisation's cause and highlighted the repressive nature of the Franco regime—and their assassination of Almirante Luis Carrero Blanco in 1973 (Carrero Blanco was appointed by Franco as Prime Minister and "strong-man" to rule Spain after his death). Spain's transition to democracy from 1975 on and ETA's progressive radicalization have resulted in a steady loss of support, which became especially apparent at the time of their 1997 kidnapping and countdown assassination of Miguel Ángel Blanco. Their loss of sympathizers has been reflected in an erosion of support for the political parties identified with the MLNV.
These polls did not cover Navarre, where support for Basque nationalist electoral options is weaker (around 25% of population) or the Northern Basque Country where support is even weaker (around 15% of population).
In their platform, formed at their first assembly in Bayonne, France in 1962, ETA called for "historical regenerationism", considering Basque history as a process of construction of a nation. They declared that Basque nationality is defined by the Basque language, Euskara; this was in contrast to the PNV's definition of Basque nationality in terms of ethnicity. In contrast with the explicit Catholicism of the PNV, ETA defined itself as "aconfessional"—meaning ETA does not recognize a special state religion—although using Catholic doctrine to elaborate its social program. They called for socialism and for "independence for Euskadi, compatible with European federalism".
In its early years, ETA's activity seems to have consisted mostly of theorizing and of protesting by destroying infrastructure and Spanish symbols and by hanging forbidden Basque flags.
It is not clear when exactly ETA first began a policy of assassination, nor is it clear who committed the first assassinations identified with ETA. There are sources that single out a failed 1960 attempt to derail a train carrying war veterans as a result of which the litte girl Beatriz Urroz was killed, this attack was not vindicated by ETA or any other group. The first confirmed assassination occurred on June 7, 1968 when Guardia Civil, José Pardines Arcay was shot dead when he tried to halt ETA member Txabi Etxebarrieta during the course of a routine road check. Etxebarrieta was chased down and killed as he tried to flee. This led to retaliation in the form of the first planned ETA assassination, that of Melitón Manzanas, chief of the secret police in San Sebastián and associated to a long record of tortures inflicted to detainees under his custody. In 1970, several members of ETA were condemned to death in the Proceso de Burgos ("Trial of Burgos"), but international pressure resulted in commutation of the sentences, which, however, had by that time already been applied to some other members of ETA. The nationalists that refused Marxism-Leninism and looked for a National Front appeared as the so-called ETA-V. They kidnapped the German consul in San Sebastian, Eugen Beilh, to exchange him for the Burgos condamnees. The most significant assassination performed by ETA during Franco's dictatorship was Operación Ogro, the December 1973 bomb assassination in Madrid of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco's chosen successor and president of the government (a position roughly equivalent to being a prime minister). The assassination had been planned for months and was executed by placing a bomb in the sewer below the street where Blanco's car passed every day. The bomb blew up just in time and threw the politician and his car three floors into the air and over the top of a nearby building; the car landed on a balcony in a courtyard the other side from the road.
This killing was not condemned and in some cases was even applauded by the Spanish opposition in exile. For some Carrero Blanco's death was an instrumental step for the subsequent establishment of democracy, by eliminating Franco's chosen successor. In regard to Carrero's death, the former ETA member now turned anti-nationalist author Jon Juaristi contends that ETA's goal with this particular killing was not democratization but a spiral of violence as an attempt to fully destabilize Spain, increase Franco's repression against Basque nationalism and subsequently put the average citizen in the Basque country in a situation where they would have had to accept the lesser evil in the form of ETA's reaction against Franco's unleashed repression.
Both ETA(m) and ETA(pm) refused offers of amnesty, instead continuing and intensifying their violent struggle. The years 1978–80 were to prove ETA's most deadly, with 68, 76, and 91 fatalities, respectively. [Martinez-Herrera 2002]
During the Franco dictatorship, ETA was able to take advantage of tolerance by the French government, which allowed its members to move freely through French territory, believing that in this manner they were contributing to the end of Franco's regime. There is much controversy over the degree to which this policy of "sanctuary" continued even after the transition to democracy, but it is generally agreed that currently the French authorities collaborate closely with the Spanish government against ETA.
In the 80s, ETA(pm) accepted the Spanish government's offer of individual pardons to all ETA prisoners, even those who had committed violent crimes, who publicly abandoned the policy of violence. This caused a new division in ETA(pm) between the seventh and eighth assemblies. ETA VII accepted this partial amnesty granted by the now democratic Spanish government and integrated into the political party Euskadiko Ezkerra ("Left of the Basque Country").
ETA VIII, after a brief period of independent activity, eventually integrated into ETA(m), possibly influencing ETA(m) into adopting even more radical and violent positions. With no factions existing anymore, ETA(m) revamped the original name of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna.
During the 1980s a "dirty war" ensued by means of the Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL, "Antiterrorist Liberation Groups"), a paramilitary group which billed themselves as counter-terrorist, active between 1983 and 1987. The GAL committed assassinations, kidnappings and torture, not only of ETA members but of civilians supposedly related to those, some of whom turned out to have nothing to do with ETA.
The airing of the state-sponsored "dirty war" scheme and the imprisonment of officials responsible for GAL in the early 1990s led to a political scandal in Spain. The group's connections with the state were unveiled by the Spanish journal El Mundo, with an investigative series leading to the GAL plot being discovered and trial initiated. As a consequence, the group's attacks since the revelation have generally been dubbed state terrorism. In 1997 the Spanish Audiencia Nacional court finished its trial, which resulted in convictions and imprisonment of several individuals related to the GAL, including civil servants up to the highest levels of the PSOE government, such as former Homeland Minister José Barrionuevo. Although premier Felipe González had been quoted as saying that the government would defend itself in the "sewers of the state" (las cloacas del estado), his role in GAL was never proven.
These events marked the end of the armed "counter-terrorist" period in Spain and no major cases of foul play on the part of the Spanish government after 1987 (when GAL ceased to operate) have been proven in courts.
ETA members and supporters routinely claim torture at the hands of any police force. While these claims are hard to verify, some convictions are based on confessions obtained while prisoners are held incommunicado and without access to a lawyer of their choice, for a maximum of three days. These confessions are routinely repudiated by the defendants during trials as having been extracted under torture. There have been some successful prosecutions of proven tortures during the "dirty war" period of the mid-1980s, although the penalties have been considered by Amnesty International as unjustifiably light and lenient with co-conspirators and enablers.
In this regard, Amnesty International has shown concern for the continuous disregard on the recommendations issued by the agency to prevent the alleged abuses to possibly take place. Also in this regard, ETA's manuals have been found instructing its members and supporters to claim routinely that they had been tortured while detained.
As a result of ETA's violence, threats and killings of journalists, Reporters Without Borders has included Spain in all six editions of its annual watchlist on press freedom. Thus, this NGO has included ETA in its watchlist "Predators of Press Freedom".
ETA performed their first car bomb assassination in Madrid in September 1985, resulting in one death (American citizen Eugene Kent Brown, Johnson&Johnson employee) and sixteen injuries; another bomb in July 1986 killed twelve members of the Guardia Civil and injured 50; on July 19, 1987 the Hipercor bombing was an attack in a shopping center in Barcelona, killing twenty one and injuring forty five; in the last case, entire families were killed. The horror caused then was so striking that ETA felt compelled to issue a communiqué stating that they had given advance warning of the Hipercor bomb, but that the police had declined to evacuate the area. The police claim that the warning came only a few minutes before the bomb exploded. In 1986 Gesto por la Paz (known in English as Association for Peace in the Basque Country) was founded; they began to convene silent demonstrations in communities throughout the Basque Country the day after any violent killing, whether by ETA or by GAL. These were the first systematic demonstrations in the Basque Country against terrorist violence. Also in 1986, in Ordizia, ETA shot down María Dolores Katarain, known as "Yoyes", while she was walking with her infant son. Yoyes was a former member of ETA who had abandoned the armed struggle and rejoined civil society: they accused her of "desertion" because of her taking advantage of the Spanish reinserción policy which granted amnesty to those prisoners who publicly refused political violence (see below).
On January 12, 1988 all Basque political parties except ETA-affiliated Herri Batasuna signed the Ajuria-Enea pact with the intent of ending ETA's violence. Weeks later on January 28, ETA announced a 60-day "ceasefire", later prolonged several times. Negotiations known as the Mesa de Argel ("Algiers Table") took place between the ETA representative Eugenio Etxebeste ("Antxon"), and the then PSOE government of Spain but no successful conclusion was reached, and ETA eventually resumed the use of violence.
During this period, the Spanish government had a policy referred to as "reinsertion", under which imprisoned ETA members whom the government believed had genuinely abandoned violence could be freed and allowed to rejoin society. Claiming a need to prevent ETA from coercively impeding this reinsertion, the PSOE government decided that imprisoned ETA members, who previously had all been imprisoned within the Basque Country, would instead be dispersed to prisons throughout Spain, some as far from their families as in the Salto del Negro prison in the Canary Islands. France has taken a similar approach. In the event, the only clear effect of this policy was to incite social protest, especially from nationalists and families of the prisoners, claiming cruelty of separating family members from the insurgents. Much of the protest against this policy runs under the slogan "Euskal presoak - Euskal Herrira" (Basque prisoners to the Basque Country, by "Basque prisoners" only ETA members are meant). It has to be noted that almost in any Spanish jail there is a group of ETA prisoners, as the number of ETA prisoners makes it difficult to disperse them. Gestoras pro-Amnistía/Amnistia Aldeko Batzordeak ("Pro-Amnesty Managing Assemblies", currently illegal), later Askatasuna ("Freedom") and Senideak ("The family members") provide support for prisoners and families. The Basque Government and several Nationalist town halls grant money on humanitarian reasons for relatives to visit prisoners. The long road trips had caused accidental deaths that are protested against by ETA supporters.
During the ETA ceasefire of the late 1990s, the PSOE government brought back to the mainland the prisoners on the islands and in Africa. Since the end of the ceasefire, ETA prisoners have not been sent back to overseas prisons. Some Basque authorities have established grants for the expenses of visiting families.
Another Spanish "counter-terrorist" law puts suspected terrorist cases under the central tribunal Audiencia Nacional in Madrid, due to the threats by the group over the Basque courts. Under Article 509 suspected terrorists are subject to being held "incommunicado" for up to thirteen days, during which they have no contact with the outside world other than through the court appointed lawyer, including informing their family of their arrest, consultation with private lawyers or examination by a physician other than the coroners. In comparison the habeas corpus term for other suspects is three days.
In 1992, ETA's three top leaders — "military" leader Francisco Mujika Garmendia ("Pakito"), political leader José Luis Alvarez Santacristina ("Txelis") and logistical leader José María Arregi Erostarbe ("Fiti"), often referred to collectively as the "cúpula" of ETA or as the Artapalo collective — were arrested in the northern Basque town of Bidart, which led to changes in ETA's leadership and direction. After a two-month truce, ETA adopted even more radical positions. The principal consequence of the change appears to have been the creation of the "Y Groups", formed by young militants of ETA parallel organisations (generally minors), dedicated to so-called "kale borroka" — street struggle — and whose activities included burning buses, street lamps, benches, ATMs, garbage containers, and throwing Molotov cocktails. The appearance of these groups was attributed by many to the supposed weakness of ETA, which obliged them to resort to minors to maintain or augment their impact on society after arrests of leading militants, including the "cupola". ETA also began to menace leaders of other parties besides rival Basque nationalist parties.
In 1995, the armed organization again launched a peace proposal. The so-called "Democratic Alternative" replaced the earlier KAS Alternative as a minimum proposal for the establishment of Euskal Herria. The Democratic Alternative offered the cessation of all armed ETA activity if the Spanish-government would recognize the Basque people as having sovereignty over Basque territory, the right to self-determination and that it freed all ETA members in prison. The Spanish government ultimately rejected this peace offer as it would go against the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Changing the constitution was not considered.
Also in 1995 came a failed ETA car bombing attempt directed against José María Aznar, a conservative politician who was leader of the then-opposition Partido Popular (PP) and was shortly after elected to the presidency of the government; there was also an abortive attempt in Majorca on the life of King Juan Carlos I. Still, the act with the largest social impact came the following year. July 10, 1997 PP council member Miguel Ángel Blanco was kidnapped in the Basque town of Ermua, with the separatist group threatening to assassinate him unless the Spanish government met ETA's demand of starting to bring all ETA's inmates to prisons of the Basque Country within two days after the kidnapping. This demand wasn't met by the Spanish government and after three days Miguel Ángel Blanco was found shot dead when the deadline expired. More than six million people took out to the streets to demand his liberation, with massive demonstrations occurring as much in the Basque regions as elsewhere in Spain, chanting cries of "Assassins" and "Basques yes, ETA no". This response came to be known as the "Spirit of Ermua".
Before the new electoral situation, which for the first time since the early 80s opened the real prospect of a non-nationalist rule in the Basque autonomous community under the form of a PSOE-PP coalition, Basque nationalist parties (EAJ-PNV, EA, HB) and the Basque branch of IU, EB, signed the Lizarra/Estella Pact in hopes of changing the political situation and reversing what was seen as a menace to Basque nationalism. This meant that the parties which had governed jointly the Basque Autonomous Community most of the time from the early 80s to date -PNV and EA- departed from the previous Ajuria Enea pact which gathered the parties known as "democratic" (PP, PSOE, PNV, EA, in other words, all but HB). Shortly after the Lizarra/Estella Pact was signed, on September 18, 1998, ETA declared a unilateral truce or ceasefire and engaged in a process of dialogue with Spain's PP government. The dialogue continued for some time, but ETA resumed assassinations in 2000, accusing the government of being "inflexible" and of "not wanting dialogue". The communiqué that declared the end of the truce cited the failure of the process initiated in the Lizarra/Estella Pact to achieve political change as the reason for the return to violence. The Spanish government, from the highest levels, accused ETA of having declared a false truce in order to reorganize and rearm. This approach seems to have been proven by the appropriation of part of ETA's internal communications at the time of the truce. Later came acts of violence such as the November 6, 2001 car bomb in Madrid, which injured sixty-five, and attacks on soccer stadiums and tourist destinations.
The September 11, 2001 attacks appeared to have dealt a hard blow to ETA, owing to the toughening of "antiterrorist" measures (such as the freezing of bank accounts), the increase in international police coordination, and the end of the toleration some countries had, up until then, extended to ETA. In addition, in 2002 the Basque nationalist youth movement Jarrai was outlawed and the law of parties was changed outlawing Herri Batasuna, the "political arm" of ETA (although even before the change in law, Batasuna had been largely paralysed and under judicial investigation by judge Baltasar Garzón).
With ever-increasing frequency, attempted ETA actions have been frustrated by Spanish security forces.
On Christmas Eve 2003, in San Sebastián and in Hernani, National Police arrested two ETA members who had left dynamite in a railroad car prepared explode in Chamartín Station in Madrid. On March 1, 2004, in a place between Alcalá de Henares and Madrid, a light truck with 536 kg of explosives was discovered by the Guardia Civil.
ETA was initially blamed for the 2004 Madrid bombings by the outgoing government and large sections of the press. Although the current Spanish government and judiciary now consider the bombs to be the work of Islamic groups, sections of the Spanish right including the main opposition Partido Popular and one of the main Spanish newspapers, El Mundo subsequently continued to assert that there might be some degree of ETA involvement. Judicial investigation currently states that there is no relationship between ETA and the Madrid bombings.
All formulations of ETA's goals have centered on sovereignty and self-determination for Euskal Herria (Basque Country, Iparralde and Navarra). ETA's motto in Basque-Euskera is "aizkora bezain zorrotza eta sugea bezain zuhurra" which translates in English as "sharp like an axe and quiet like a snake".
ETA has killed hundreds of people, including approximately 340 civilians, and kidnapped dozens, in its actions against what they consider enemies of the Basque people . More than 700 ETA members are held in prison in Spain, France and other countries.
The organization has adopted from time to time other secondary tactical causes such as fighting against:
ETA's victims have expanded from the former military/police-related personnel and their families, to a wider array, which today includes the following:
ETA's tactics include:
ETA operates mainly in Spain, particularly in the Basque Country, Navarre, and (to a lesser degree) Madrid, Barcelona, and the tourist areas of the Spanish Mediterranean coast. To date, about 65% of ETA's killing have been committed in the Basque Country, followed Madrid with roughly 15%. Navarre and Catalonia also register significant numbers.
Actions in France usually consist of assaults on arsenals or military industries in order to steal weapons or explosives; these are usually stored in large quantities in hide-outs located in the French Basque Country rather than Spain. The French judge Laurence Le Vert has been threatened by ETA and a plot arguably aiming to assassinate her was unveiled. Only very rarely have ETA members engaged in shootings with the French Gendarmerie. This has often occurred mainly when members of the organization were confronted at checkpoints.
In spite of this, ETA killed in France on December 1 2007 two Spanish Civil Guards on counter-terrorist surveillance duties in Capbreton, Landes. This has been its first cold blood killing after it ended its self-styled "permanent ceasefire" and the first killing committed by ETA in France of a Spanish police agent ever since 1976, when they kidnapped, tortured and assassinated two Spanish inspectors in Hendaye.
A police file, dating from 1996, indicated that ETA needed about 15 million pesetas (about 90,000 Euros) daily in order to finance its operations. More recently, 2007 police reports point out that, after the serious blows suffered by ETA and its political counterparts during the 2000s, its budget would have been adjusted to 2,000,000 euros annually.
Although ETA used robbery as a means of financing its activities in its early days, it has since been accused both of arms trafficking and of benefiting economically from its political counterpart Batasuna.
Arrested ETA members often carry false documentation, especially in France, including Spanish police badges.
ETA is considered to form part of what is informally known as the Basque National Liberation Movement, a movement born much after ETA's creation. This loose term refers to a range of political organizations that are ideologically akin, comprising several distinct organizations that promote a type of leftist Basque nationalism that is often referred to by the Basque-language term Ezker Abertzalea (Nationalist Left). Other groups typically considered to belong to this independentist movement are: the political party Batasuna, the nationalist youth organization Segi, the labour union Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak (LAB), and Askatasuna among others. There are often strong interconnections between these groups, double or even triple membership are not unfrequent.
There are Basque nationalist parties with similar goals as those of ETA (namely, independence) but who openly reject their violent means. They are: EAJ-PNV, Eusko Alkartasuna, Aralar and, in the French Basque country, Abertzaleen Batasuna. In addition a number of left-wing parties, such as Ezker Batua, Batzarre and some sectors of the EAJ-PNV party, also support self-determination but are not in favour of independence.
With the disbanding of the GAL, the French government considered that detainees' rights were being adequately defended in Spain. France changed its position in the matter and initiated in the 1990s the ongoing period of active cooperation with the Spanish government against ETA, including fast-track transfers of detainees to Spanish tribunals that are regarded as fully compliant with European Union legislation in human rights and the legal representation of detainees.
In response to the new situation, ETA carried out attacks against French policemen and made threats to some French judges and prosecutors. This implied a change from the organization's previous low-profile in the French Basque Country, which successive ETA leaders had used to discreetly managing their activities in Spain.
ETA considers its prisoners political prisoners. Until 2003, ETA consequently forbade them to ask penal authorities for progression to tercer grado (a form of open prison that allows single-day or weekend furloughs) or parole. Before that date, those who did so were menaced and expelled from the group. Some were assassinated by ETA for leaving the band and going through reinsertion programs.
A more recent tactic of the Spanish Governments' campaign against ETA has been to target its social support network. The most important measure has been the passing of the Ley de Partidos Políticos. This is a law barring political parties which support violence, don't condemn terrorist actions or are involved with terrorist groups . The law has resulted in the banning of Herri Batasuna and its successor parties unless they condemn explicitly terrorist actions and, at times, imprisoning or processing some of its leaders who have been indicted for cooperation with ETA.
Judge Baltasar Garzón has initiated a judicial procedure (coded as 18/98), aimed towards the support structure of ETA. This procedure started in 1998 with the preventive closure of the newspaper Egin (and its associated radio-station Egin Irratia), accused of being linked to ETA, and temporary imprisoning the editor of its "investigative unit", Pepe Rei, under similar accusations. In August of 1999 Judge Baltasar Garzón authorized the reopening of the newspaper and the radio, but they coulndn't reopen due to economic difficulties.
Judicial procedure 18/98 has many ramifications, including the following:
As of June 2007, indicted members of the youth movements Haika, Segi and Jarrai have been found guilty (January 2007) of a crime of connivance with terrorism. Most of the other trials are still under process.
On Tuesday 20 May, 2008, leading ETA figures were arrested in Bourdeaux, France. Francisco Javier Lopez Pena, also known as 'Thierry,' had been on the run for twenty years before his arrest. A final total of arrests brought in six people, including ETA members and supporters, including the ex-Mayor of Andoain, José Antonio Barandiarán, who is rumoured to have led police to 'Thierry'.. The Spanish Interior Ministry claimed the relevance of the arrests would come in time with the investigation. Furthermore, the Interior Minister said that those members of ETA now arrested had ordered the latest terrorist attacks, and that the man considered to be the head of the terrorists, Francisco Javier López Peña was "not just another arrest because he is, in all probability, the man who has most political and military weight in the terrorist group."
After the major coup of Lopez Pena's arrest, along with the Basque referendum being put on hold, police work has been on the rise. On July 22 2008 Spanish police dismantled the most active cell of ETA by detaining nine suspected members of the group. Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said about the arrests: "We can't say this is the only ETA unit but it was the most active, most dynamic and of course the most wanted one. Four days later French police also arrested two suspects believed to be tied to the same active cell. The two suspects were: Asier Eceiza, considered a top aide to a senior ETA operative still sought by police, and Olga Comes, whom authorities have linked to the ETA suspects. arrested earlier.
The European Union and the United States list ETA as a terrorist organization in their relevant watch lists. The United Kingdom lists ETA as a terrorist group in the Terrorism Act of 2000. The Canadian Parliament listed ETA as a terrorist organization on April 2, 2003 .
France and Spain have often showed co-operation in the fight against ETA, despite France's lack of co-operation during the Franco era. In late 2007, two Spanish guards were shot to death in France when on a joint operation with their French counterparts. Furthermore, in May 2008 the arrests of four persons in Bourdeaux led to a major breakthrough against ETA, according to the Spanish Interior Ministry.
In an attempt to link Colombia's struggle with FARC and Spain's struggle with ETA, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos made the claim that FARC have attempted to lodge ties with ETA for an attack in Spain.
The FARC's contacts with ETA and drug traffickers exporting cocaine to Europe are not new, and when they are secure in Colombia, they try to do harm overseas,This was later denied by the Anncol news agency which said the government mistook a city by the name of Madrid in northern Colombia for the Spanish capital.
In any case, the police and defense ministry continue to do intelligence analysis on the FARC's relationship with ETA but that (foreign operations) is one of the risks you have to take.
On October 2nd 2008, as ETA activity increased, France cracked the whip in arresting more ETA suspects. While Ireland was on the lookout for an ETA suspect hiding amongst the IRA, France too arrested an alleged ETA member, Esteban Murillo Zubiri, in Bidarrain. He had been wanted by the Spanish authorities since 2007 when an europol arrest warrant was issued against him. French judicial authorities had already ordered that he be held in prison on remand. His was the third arrest of an ETA terrorist in less than two weeks in France following the detention of Unai Fano and María Lizarraga on September 23.
In the context of negotiation with the Spanish government, ETA has declared what it has described as "truce" a number of times since its creation.
The most recent is the one of 22 March 2006, when ETA sent a DVD message to the Basque Network Euskal Irrati-Telebista and the journals Gara and Berria with a communiqué from the organization announcing what it called a "permanent ceasefire" that was broadcast over Spanish TV.
Talks with the group were then officially opened by Spanish Presidente del Gobierno José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero.
These took place all over 2006, not free from incidents such as an ETA cell stealing some 300 handguns, ammunition and spare parts in France on October 2006. or a series of warnings made by ETA such as the one of September 23, when masked ETA militants declared that the organization would "keep taking up arms" until achieving "independence and socialism in the Basque country, which were regarded by some as a way to increase pressure on the talks, by others as a tactic to reinforce ETA's position in the negotiations.
Finally, on 30 December, 2006 ETA detonated a van bomb after three confusing warning calls, in a parking building at the Madrid Barajas international airport. The explosion caused the collapse of the building and killed two Ecuadorian immigrants who were napping inside their cars in the parking building. At 6:00 P.M., José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero released a statement stating that the "peace process" had been discontinued.
On May 14 2008 a car bomb was detonated in front of a Civil Guard lodging compound where 15 families lived, killing policeman Juan Manuel Piñuel Villalón and leaving four others injured. ETA claimed responsibility for the attack.
On May 20th 2008 a number of senior ETA members were arrested in Bordeaux, France, in a joint Spanish-French operation. Among those arrested was Francisco Javier Lopez Pena, the group's military chief.
In the week of September 8 2008 two Basque political parties were banned by a Spanish court for their secretive links to ETA. In an other case in the same week, 21 people were convicted whose work on behalf of ETA prisoners actually belied secretive links to the armed separatists themselves.
Documentary films about ETA
Novels about ETA