The declaration by ETA, announced today in the Basque newspaper ‘Gara', has been in the air for weeks. Indeed, it has recently been a recurrent question-mark hanging over political speeches and articles in the Spanish and Basque press. Now the question is, "in what ways is this declaration different from the other ceasefires proclaimed in the history of this armed organisation?"
1975. From this date, ETA considered it imperative to negotiate on the basic of the KAS Alternative, a kind of Basque constituent process, in order to arrive at a peaceful solution to the conflict. At various points it has emphasised that such an accord would have produced a sort of hibernation of the armed struggle.
1989. A key aspect here was that ETA considered itself a potential partner in dialogue with the Spanish government, and this political-military strategy led to the government and ETA taking part in negotiations in Algiers from January to April 1989. ETA declared a unilateral truce of 15 days, and then announced "the creation of a period of distension in the conflict, in order to propitiate the dialogue underway". The Spanish government tacitly observed this truce.
1996. After the failure of the Algiers negotiations, seven years passed until - in April 1996, shortly after the election of José Maria Aznar, who had miraculously avoided an attempted assassination by ETA - the movement announced another "symbolic" truce, this time of one week, on the occasion of the presentation of Alternativa Democratica. This was a proposal for resolving the conflict that reaffirmed the armed group's role as a "guarantor" for negotiations on the Basque Country's right to self-determination, but established that the discussion of the political contents of such an agreement would be carried out by legally established Basque political and social forces.
1998. The Aznar Government's all-out offensive against the leftist independence supporters, along with a clamp-down on autonomist political movements and a military strategy on the part of ETA focusing on a series of assassinations of PSOE and PP politicians, eventually led to the drawing up of an agreement between the majority of the Basque Country's political, trade union and social organisations, but not the representatives of the PSOE or the PP, nor the Basque branches of the national trade unions, the UGT and the CCOO. This agreement was called the Lizarra Garazi Accord. Taking the peace process in Northern Ireland as a blueprint, the agreement established the ground plan for a peace process based on the recognition of the Basque Country as a decision-making entity. An important step, because the initiative was left in the hands of Basque political and social forces. This was the background against which, on 12 September 1998, ETA declared a unilateral truce that was to last until December 1999. During this period, Spanish and French security forces carried out a series of operations against both ETA and political organisations connected with leftist supporters of independence. In the end the Lizarra Garazi accord collapsed, but this made it clear that ETA's indirect but implicit presence at the negotiation table as a "guarantor" had given the Spanish government an excuse to claim that it was not possible to negotiate political accords with "a terrorist organisation". This fact led to an internal debate within the Basque independence movement which, after years of secret negotiations with representatives of the Socialist Party, in September 2004 culminated in the Anoeta Declaration, in which the recently outlawed Batasuna political party announced a proposal for two-table negotiations: one between ETA and the government, to discuss demilitarisation procedures and Basque prisoners, and the other a political forum involving Basque political parties and social entities.
2006. After Aznar's "political suicide"... when he attributed the jihadist Madrid train bombs in March 2004 to ETA ... Zapatero's Socialist government appeared to accept this formula. In March 2006 Eta announced a new ceasefire, which was to last until May 2007. The two-table dialogue -ETA/Government on one table, Batasuna PNV/PSOE on the other, with the involvement of various international mediators - came up with possible proposals for historic breakthrough solutions, both on political accords and "definitive dismantling of ETA", but in the end ran aground on both sides' resistance to firmly committing themselves to the path of a "no violence, no interference" scenario.
The resulting disillusionment set off a profound and widespread debate within the leftist independence area, where the groundswell of opinion was that the democratic process - and consequently the possibility of attaining the strategic goals of independence and socialism -needed new instruments in order to arrive at the necessary "accumulation of strengths". In this vision of things, armed struggle no longer had a place. The debate within the various independence-orientated movements was frequently tense, but an increasingly clear trend emerged "in favour of a democratic process in which all the various options can confront one another from positions of equal respect, without being conditioned either by interference or violence." The affirmation of this position implied a major reshuffle of the playing cards and new hands being dealt... just when the government had been in a position of strength, with ETA staggering under the repeated setbacks caused by Spanish and French police action, and with the main leftist independence organisations banned from all electoral competition by the 2002 law on political parties.
So Madrid took drastic steps. In October 2009 the leaders of the independence-leaning left, who had made crucial contributions to the strategic choice of a non-violent political climate, were arrested. But this explicit attempt to derail their choice was to prove ineffective in the face of subsequent developments. The declarations of Alsasua and Venice (November 2009), the Zutik Euskal Herria document, the Guernica agreement and the official support for this process provided by twenty prestigious international figures, plus the decision to create a new party accepting the principles laid down in the law on political parties... all were expressions of a widespread implicit and explicit request that the central government and ETA reach a peaceful solution to the conflict, confirming an irreversible commitment to this path.
2011. ETA accepts the consequence of this situation. It agrees - for its part and in its own time - to this request. It declares "a suspension of offensive armed acts", and follows this by the current declaration of "a permanent, general and verifiable ceasefire." This is a commitment which ETA is scrupulously observing and which leaves the Spanish government with the responsibility of lifting its ban on the leftist independence movement, which has been the leading actor in developing this new possible scenario of peace and democracy.