A nationalist hard-line party of the Basque region, which consists of northern Spain and parts of southwestern France, has asserted Basque independence for the past 40 years. This party, known as Batasuna or Sozialista Abertzaleak, has been fighting for the autonomy of three of northern Spain's Basque provinces, but it has been declining in power since being formally banned by the conservative People's Party government in 2003. The organization that is commonly assumed to be its military wing, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), has been responsible for the deaths of over 800 people since 1968. After decades of struggle, top Batasuna officials appear to want to achieve their goals through more political means, yet the new Socialist government of Spain under Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero remains skeptical. The question is whether Batasuna's proposed political methods will bring peace to this troubled region and whether the Spanish government, which has long been debating the issue of Basque self-determination, will ever believe Batasuna's claims.
Due to the increased cooperation of the Spanish and French police forces, several key Batasuna and ETA figures have been arrested. The two states have made a concerted effort to combine their forces and intelligence in an effort to disrupt potential violent attacks. As a result, an open letter from several jailed Batasuna leaders in August 2004 encouraged ETA to use diplomacy as a method to pursue its goals, since terrorism, according to them, "was not serving any purpose." In October 2004, a major raid netted Mikel "Antza" Albizu Iriarte, one of the alleged leaders of ETA, and he and other top officials have also begun to urge the party to end its violent tactics.
These numerous arrests (over 400 ETA members are currently in prison) seem to have greatly shaken the internal structure of Batasuna, and the October raid was a very serious blow for the separatist party. There have been no deaths attributed to ETA since 2003, and some government officials have taken this fact as a sign that Batasuna is losing ground and becoming increasingly weaker due to party in-fighting and conflicting goals.
Nevertheless, there have been several bombings in public places, such as outside office buildings and in public parks, causing material damage; these disturbances show that there is still some terrorist activity. In November 2004, Batasuna released a proposal to negotiate peace with the Spanish government that involved demilitarization. Arnaldo Otegi, the leader of Batasuna, has hinted that ETA intends to "let the weapons fall silent" and is "seeking a definitive peace scenario." In February 2005 Batasuna even sent an open letter to French President Jacques Chirac asking him to speak with ETA and commence negotiations, but the appeal has not been answered.
The People's Party, which was in power until March 2004, also refused negotiations with ETA due to its unwillingness to renounce the use of violence. …