The Basque separatist group ETA's declaration Wednesday of a
permanent cease-fire offers the prospect of an end to one of
Europe's longest running civil conflicts, and a new constitutional
future for Spain that could reshape the country's political map.
But the group's videotaped statement, aired on Spanish TV, marks
only the first step toward resolving Madrid's thorniest challenge.
"The government's position is one of caution and prudence," Prime
Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told parliament, responding to
ETA's announcement. "Any peace process after so many years of horror
and terror will be long and difficult."
The statement from ETA, which has been fighting for 40 years for
an independent Basque state, explained the cease-fire - which goes
into effect Friday - as a bid to "promote a democratic process in
the Basque country ... in which our rights as a people will be
recognized." The government, it warned "must recognize the results
of this democratic process with no type of limitation."
Politicians had been speculating for weeks that the armed group,
which has killed more than 800 people, was about to announce an end
to its violent struggle. The government had repeatedly refused to
open talks with ETA until it renounced the use of force.
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told the
Senate Wednesday that the authorities would "work with all political
forces" to bring peace to the Basque country, in Spain's Northeast.
She said she hoped the cease-fire marked "the beginning of the end"
of ETA, which stands for "Basque Homeland and Freedom" in the Basque
ETA has demanded that the Spanish government recognize the Basque
country's right to declare independence, if a referendum in the
region backs such a decision. Though Mr. Zapatero has ruled out such
a move, his government has shown more tolerance of regional
separatists than previous administrations.
On Tuesday, the Spanish parliament approved a new relationship
between the central government and Catalonia, recognizing it as "a
nation." Some observers suggested that the vote encouraged ETA to
hope for a similar, or better, deal if it renounces violence. Last
year, parliament authorized the government to hold talks with ETA,
which is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union
and the United States, on the condition the group laid down its
"If I was in ETA I would be optimistic" about the outcome of
expected negotiations, says Florentino Portero, an analyst at the
Strategic Studies Group, a think tank in Madrid. "Zapatero is a new
generation of politician with a radically new way of conceiving of
the state" as a confederation of sovereign regions.
On the streets of the Basque city of Bilbao, some citizens
welcomed the news of the cease-fire. "I am very happy this has
happened," says Inaki Muniain, a hotel receptionist, by phone. "This
gives us hope that things will get better and that ETA will
disappear or end up as a political party."
Echoing that optimism, Juan Aviles, expert in terrorism and
security at the Universidad Nacional a Distancia "It's good news. It
could really be the end of ETA's terrorism. You always have to be
cautious when talking about terrorists, but I believe that this
declaration could be the end of the nightmare that we've lived for
almost 40 years."
Others were more cautious. "I don't believe it at all," scoffs
Nestor Diez Seisdedos, a quality-control inspector at an electrical
appliance factory in Barakaldo, also reached by phone. …