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Luis Aizpeolea: “ETA’s terrorism cannot be put on the same level with the dirty war”

The writer and journalist Luis Aizpeolea, also scriptwriter of the documentary The End of ETA, -projected in Benalmádena thanks to the cinema forum organized by the Ateneo Libre and the Cine club Más Madera-, offers Ole Benalmádena an interview in which he explains in what historical context didETA go from being a clandestine opposition group to an armed terrorist gang, what were the keys to dialogue with the ETA members, what has happened to the unsolved cases or the need for self-criticism about violence on the left of the nationalist so that terrorism will never return to the País Vasco.

-How did ETA go from being a clandestine opposition gang to crossing the line towards an armed terrorist organization with the assassination of Franco’s commissioner Melitón Manzanas?

-They with the murder of Manzanas start with terrorism. There was a previous murder of a civil guard, but they had not planned it. He went to arrest them and they killed him. It is important to understand in what historical moment this step that ETA took takes place … At that time, certain milestones occurred in the world: the French Maywith the student uprising and strikes in France, in Latin America they were the years of Che Guevara, in Cuba the cuban revolution against the Batista dictatorship, there is the Vietnam War… in short, a climate of revolutionary revolt is created on a world scale to achieve a better society. It is precisely in this climate, in which ETA is promoted and launched into the armed struggle, that is to say, at that time ETA was responding to what is happening on a world scale. They do not interpret it as terrorism. They think it is an armed struggle against a dictatorship. In Spain there was no democracy, they lived under the Franco dictatorship and there was no freedom.

-But, we cannot see that ETAfrom the beginning with the eyes of now …

-Of course not. The mentality of the beginnings responds to a time that has no place in democracy. Che was, for example, a very well-known figure among young people … That historical context created a favorable climate, which people viewed with sympathy …

-Later, the GAL arrives in democracy, the so-called ‘dirty war’ against ETA …

-In the Franco dictatorship there was also a ‘dirty war’. There was a clandestine group called the Basque-Spanish battalion in the time ofCarrero Blanco, which also killed ETA members and those it considered sympathizers of the armed gang. The GAL was the continuity of this clandestine group.

-Public opinion about ETA plummeted with the bomb in the Barcelona shopping center in 87, the kidnapping of Ortega Lara … but it was the murder of Miguel Ángel Blanco that broke the camel’s back … thousands of people took to the streets in rejection of the terrorist organization …

-To understand it, you have to go back years before. With the 1977 amnesty, all ETA prisoners had taken to the streets, in Spain there was democracy, in the Basque Country there was Basque statute and self-government, in 1980 there were regional elections to elect the Basque Government … that is, each time ETA had less sense. Having democracy and self-government did not paint anything a terrorist organization that killed. And still, he kept killing for many more years.

-Why?

-Well, because it had a lot of prestige at the beginning, in the year 75. It was very driven by social legitimation precisely because of that prestige that I told you it achieved in its beginnings. Neither did the ‘dirty war’ help at all, which made them say: “you see, the State is also attacking us”. He gave them oxygen to last for more years …

The former president of the PSE, Jesús Eguiguren, and the journalist Luis Aizpeolea during their visit to Benalmádena.

-When Jesús Eguiguren sits down with ETA, he is already very weakened (Batasunawas already outlawed, there had been many arrests …)

-Yes, they were with the water around their necks. They sit down to talk with Jesús Eguiguren because they were weak. If they feel strong …

-It should also be noted that in the years of dialogue, international terrorism – with the 9/11 of the twin towers and the attack on the trains in Madrid later – moved in a scenario of global citizen rejection …

-You’re right. Terrorism fell into decline … the guerrillas in Latin America hardly exist anymore, the IRAin Ireland, which had inspired ETA a lot, is also withdrawing … When Eguiguren arrives to speak with Otegui, ETA is no longer the one from the year 80 nor the 90’s. It is a weak ETA, heavily punished by the police, by the judges …

-At that time there was also collaboration with France to financially dismantle the terrorist organization …

-Yes. The keys to the dialogue were the state of weakness that ETA was experiencing and the one that they agreed on a method, without politics involved. They could speak, but could not reach any political agreement.

-How did you experience the whole process as a journalist? After his book ‘Ciudadano Zapatero’ he became the target of many criticisms …

-In this matter I have worked as a journalist and I have to be critical. Not everything the PSOE did was good. He hit the line of dialogue. There is an important key at this point. When he entered the Zapaterogovernment, Eguiguren met with him and Rubalcaba. He told them about the meetings he had had with Otegui in secret, because they were unaware of these contacts. The Government decided to open the stage of official dialogue. They tried because if it went well, they achieved peace and if it went wrong, for a time with the truce deaths are avoided, and due to the previous experiences in the time of José María Aznar or Felipe González, when ETA always broke the negotiations, it would leave weakened and the Government was strengthened. This is exactly what happened. Dialogue was broken with the attack on T4and Otegui saw that in the end the Batasuna party -which was outlawed- would end up dying with the terrorist gang, so he asked the terrorist gang to stop and they did so, and without asking anything from change. The only thing that Otegui achieved is to return to constitutional legality and he has even been rewarded with the votes of a part of the citizenry. In the end ETA did not get what it wanted, it made a withdrawal as dignified as it could, nothing more.

-To definitively close the wounds, should each other recognize that the victims have the same rights?

-The victims are all victims, be it a relative of ETA that the dirty war kills as revenge, or a civil guard who kills the terrorist gang in an attack. Another thing is the issue of the perpetrators. ETA’s performance cannot be placed on the same level as that of the State. In quantity, ETA kills 850 people approximately since 1968, and the dirty war kills between 50 to 60 people. You see that the difference is noticeable. Afterwards, ETA has been killing until 2011. 92% of the murders of the terrorist gang occur in democracy, only 8% occur during the dictatorship. Are you killing in democracy when there are other ways to achieve goals? because we must remember that Batasuna was legalized … They used assassination to leverage, to pressure … ETA was undemocratic and it was about to destroy democracy in Spain because one of Tejero‘s arguments for the coup was precisely the existence of ETA . ETA’s terrorism cannot be placed on the same level with the  state’sdirty war. The Basque rulers have admitted guilt, perhaps it would be good if the King did it one day, as head of state. But it must be made clear that both actions are not at the same level, although the murder is always unfair and never, neither on one side nor on the other, should have happened.

-Regarding the pending cases, do we still have a lot of history to know?

-There is talk of between 200 and 300 cases pending resolution, but the problem is that the vast majority are from the beginnings, from the 70s and 80s.  Most have prescribed. The only thing that could be achieved is to know them as truth and justice. At that time there were no means and in the case of the dirty war there was no interest either. Regarding the recent cases, most are known, but the old ones – given the lack of judges and the saturation in the Security forces – are still unsolved. That should not remain like that, as I was telling you for truth and justice.

-ETA disarmed under the firm belief that there were two sides of armed struggle in the country …

-That’s what they thought. But what there was is democracy and anti-democracy. It was not even like the case of Ireland, where there was a poor community represented by the IRA and a rich one… here there were not two sides, only one.

-Do you think that Sortu, as heir to the already dissolvedBatasuna, should recognize that ETA should not have existed?

-Yes, Sortu should take that step. It is one thing to say there should be no victims of ETA and another to say that ETA should not have existed, and that is what is missing. The self-criticism of the nationalist left about violence is very necessary so that terrorism never returns to the Basque Country.

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