The Basque Country:
The Basque Country (Euskal Herria) is divided in two states and three main institutional bodies: The Basque Autonomous Community, CAV, and Foral Community of Navarre, CFN, in the Spanish State and in part of the 64th Department (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) of the French state. The Basque Country covers 20.947 km2 and counted in 2010 with a population of 3.106.000 people.
The permanent denial of the Basque Country by France and Spain has encountered varied forms of response and national self-affirmation. The answer ranged from collective disobedience to an armed response to Spanish and French structural violence. In this context, the political conflict has adopted forms of open and bloody confrontation for generations. Since 1959 ETA, put up and armed struggle for Independence and Socialism for the Basque Country.
The current process:
After more than 50 years of armed confrontation and 3 collapsed peace processes, (Algiers ’89, Lizarra-Garazi ’99 and Loiola ’07) the Abertzale Left decided to start a unilateral process in 2009 to achieve a lasting and just peace.
As a result of this decision ETA declared a ceasefire and later on announced the definitive cessation of its armed activity. This process has been supported by Basque Society and International agents.
On the one hand Basque Society has supported the process; on every election since 2011 (except on the 2015&2016 Spanish general elections) the pro-independence left coalition EH Bildu has obtained around 25% of the votes, becoming the second political force in the Country and there have been huge demonstrations against repression and for Basque Political Prisoners; 130.000 people marched in Bilbao, January 2014, on the biggest demonstration ever in the Basque Country (a yearly march is held for prisoners rights in January, since 2011 the march has been close to or over 100.000 strong)
On the other hand the International Community has plaid a very important role, through the constitution of an International Contact Group to facilitate dialogue among Basque Parties, an International Verification Commission to assess ETA’s fulfilment of its commitments and its disarmament and foremost through the International Conference of Aiete that led to the Declaration of Aiete.
The Aiete Declaration:
On the 17th October 2011 Kofi Annan, Gro Harlem Bruntland, Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams, Pierre Joxe and Jonathan Powell, presented the Aiete Declaration that was subsequently endorsed by Tony Blair, Jimmy Carter and George Mitchell. The Declaration made 4 recommendations for the resolution of the conflict.
The declaration asked ETA to put an end to the armed campaign, which ETA did 3 days later; asked the Spanish and French Governments to dialogue with ETA about the consequences of the conflict; called Basque society to address the suffering of all victims and called Basque parties to address the roots of the conflict.
The Post-Aiete Situation:
Despite ETA’s decision the Spanish and French governments refused to enter any kind of dialogue about the consequences of the conflict and tried to block and hinder the process by putting pressure on the prisoners and persecuting solidarity initiatives and political activists.
The Spanish Government used Basque political prisoners as political-hostages and even tough the situation on the ground had evolved positively, the Spanish authorities worsened their incarceration conditions and re-interpreted legislation, including the application of the Court Decision 197/2006 (also known as Parot Doctrine), to lengthen prisoners’ serving time. This decision was later repelled by the European Court of Human Rights. The prisoners’ situation raises two main concerns at this moment. (1) The policy of dispersion (keeping prisoners dispersed and as far as possible form their places of origin). (2) The refusal to release seriously ill prisoners.
The Spanish Government even refused to hold a dialogue about ETA’s disarmament and actively hindered ETA’s initiative to disarm unilaterally, arresting ETA’s leadership and those responsible for putting weapons beyond use.