Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


ETA Announces Ceasefire

Aired March 22, 2006 - 18:00:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): ETA calls on all agents to behave in a responsible way and to be coherent faced with the steps taken by ETA.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST (voice-over): The Basque breakthrough. Spain's ETA terrorists declare a permanent ceasefire. In the midst of a global war on terror, Western Europe's militants are melting away.


Hello and welcome.

ETA never really gave up bombings. Even in recent weeks, while Spain's prime minister was musing publicly about the end of the violent Basque campaign for autonomy, more bombs kept going off. But ETA had apparently lost its taste for terror. The attacks were routinely proceeded by warnings and in some cases the explosives were even marked to avoid injury with the words "danger" and "bomb."

Police were sometimes getting wounded, but it's been nearly three years since the last known fatal attack. Now ETA says the attacks are over. Spain's leaders and people are hoping that this time ETA means it and maybe Europeans can mark the transformation of the last active terror group created on the continent.

On our program today, ETA announces the end.

We begin with Lindsey Hilsum.


LINDSEY HILSUM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Still masked, still undercover, still in a secret location. But today the Basque separatist movement, ETA, released this video declaring a permanent ceasefire starting Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): ETA also calls on the Spanish and French authorities to respond positively to this new situation, leaving their repressive ways behind. Finally, we call on the Basque citizens to get involved in this process and to fight for the rights we deserve as a nation.

HILSUM: Speaking in parliament in Madrid, the Spanish prime minister indicated that this could signal the start of a peace process, to end nearly 40 years of violence.

JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO, SPANISH PRIME MIN. (through translator): The government position is of caution and prudence. As I have said before and today I reiterate before this chamber, this, like all peace processes, after so many years of horror and terror, is going to be long and difficult, difficult and long. Therefore, we are all committed to and engaged in this process.

HILSUM: He called on the conservative opposition to back the government. The popular party has always opposed what it calls talking to terrorists. But Prime Minister Zapatero's Socialists are expected to start negotiations with ETA soon.

MARIANO RAJOY, OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): It is not possible to negotiate politically or to pay a political price to a terrorist organization, because in that case terrorism could become a political instrument and terrorists would win the battle.

HILSUM: It's been a long and bitter conflict. ETA attacks have killed more than 800 people in Spain, this bomb in Fuengerola (ph) in 2002. In the 1970s and '80s, hundreds of ETA suspects were killed by government- backed forces. I recent months, ETA has been weakened as many in the leadership have been arrested.

ETA's political wing, Herri Batasuna, does have support in the Basque region. Like Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, it's expected to play a key role in any negotiations, although the Batasuna leader, Arnaldo Otegi, will appear in court charged with inciting violence later this week.

But massive anti-ETA demonstrations in Bilbao (ph) in recent years indicate that many Basques have had enough of this conflict and want a deal on further autonomy to be decided by talking not violence.

Those views are echoed by Spaniards elsewhere. The massive demonstrations after the Madrid train bombings in 2004 were not just against al Qaeda, who carried out those attacks, but against terrorism in general.

There is a long way to go. As in Northern Ireland, there are deals to be done on prisoners and decommissioning, but the Spanish prime minister said this was a day of history and hope.


MANN: For nearly four decades, ETA has operated in the shadows of Spanish life and politics.

CNN's Al Goodman has more now on the group and its goals, both of which were taken to the extreme.


AL GOODMAN, CNN MADRID BUREAU CHIEF (voice over): A car bomb kills four, including a supreme court judge. Twenty-one people murdered in this supermarket bombing. Two of many attacks by the Basque separatist group ETA that terrorized Spaniards the past 37 years.

ETA is blamed for more than 800 deaths. The group says it's fighting for independence for the Basque people, but most Spaniards, the European Union and the United States say ETA is just a terrorist organization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The only possible position on terrorism is to wipe it out.

GOODMAN: ETA nearly killed Afnar (ph) when he was the conservative opposition leader, but his armor-plated car saved him.

Basques are an ancient seafaring people. Their hills isolated them from the rest of Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most important thing for us is our language.

GOODMAN: In the Basque language, ETA stands for "Basque Homeland and Liberty."

The dictator Francisco Franco suppressed the Basques and their language. ETA started during his rule.

Now, in democratic Spain, the Basque flag flies freely, Basque is taught in schools and the region has broad autonomy.

That hasn't been enough for ETA and some Basque pro-independence parties. Spain officially recognizes three provinces as the Basque country, but ETA also wants another Spanish province, Navarra, and a part of France added. A homeland, they say, for three million Basques.

ARNALDO OTEGI, BATASUNA LEADER (through translator): Every Spanish interior minister from Franco's time until now has claimed victory over ETA. But no one has achieved it.

GOODMAN: The 1980s was ETA's deadliest decade, targeting Spanish police and military personnel. ETA's killing of a Basque town councilman in 1977 was a watershed event prompting the largest crowds ever, millions of Spaniards, to protest ETA's violence.

Police raids against ETA have become more effective as Spain boosted cooperation with France, ETA's traditional rear guard. More than 500 ETA prisoners are in Spanish jails.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says Spanish policy remains the same: no talks with ETA until it renounces violence and lays down its arms.

There have been two important ETA cease-fires before, but talks each time broke down and the violence resumed. The question now, will this time be different?

Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


MANN: One of the men who worked on the sidelines to bring about the ceasefire is an Irish priest, and this isn't the first time that he's brought two sides to the negotiating table.

Father Alec Reid also mediated between the British government and the IRA. I spoke with him on the phone a short time ago about what might have changed ETA's mind.


FATHER ALEC REID, NEGOTIATOR: The present government, see, they opened the door to the bid, because obviously there has to be another way forward for the Basque nationalists, and they decided that the way forward was the peaceful way. But that meant all the parties, including the Spanish party, they all have to get down to the same table.

So when Mr. Zapatero and his party came in and said, OK -- they said very quickly and very early -- we're ready to negotiate here, then that opened up the whole situation.

MANN: Do you see any similarities between what's happened in Spain and the experience in Northern Ireland?

REID: Well, I mean, all these conflicts are basically the same in the sense that they're about -- I mean, the Irish conflict was about human rights. OK. The IRA were, if you like, a violent response to the suppression of human rights. The ETA is a violent response to repression of rights, first of all under Franco, who tried to destroy the Basque culture and Basque everything. And, you know, they are a reasonable response to fascism.

One difference, therefore, would be that in Ireland, the British government would prefer to facilitate negotiations. Here, the Spanish government, the Spanish parties, are very nervous about anything which has to do with nationalism. Spanish people especially, because they don't want Spain to break up and they think they're encouraging the breakup of Spain.

MANN: Did you personally have any role in Spain corresponding to the work that you did in Northern Ireland?

REID: What you do -- I mean, I represent the Redemptorist Peace Ministry, and it's basically a Christian ministry. And what you do is you say, first of all, that the only way you can settle this conflict is take it away from the street. You can't settle it on the street. It has to be taken off the street and brought to the conference table. And you kind of preach that. You kind of say, there is no military solution. You have to take it to the conference table. You have to settle it through dialogue.


MANN: Father Alec Reid.

We take a break now. When we come back, more on what the Spanish government is going to do now, but first, Europe hasn't stopped suffering from terrorists or fighting them, but the homegrown groups do seem to be on the wane.

In Northern Ireland, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the IRA, killed about 1,775 people over three decades. Its representatives in Sinn Fein agreed to a peace accord in 1998 and the Provisional IRA last year announced it was renouncing violence and disarming.

Other Republican and loyalists groups do continue to exist, but they essentially concentrate now on petty crime.

In Greece, the Marxist group that called itself November 17 carried out more than 20 killings from 1975 to 2002. Greek police launched a concerted crackdown in recent years and November 17 has been inactive since 2002.

In Germany, the Baader Meinhoff Gang, later known as the Red Army Faction, carried out kidnappings, murders and bombings. But the group formally disbanded in April of 1988.

In Italy, the Red Brigades kidnapped or killed hundreds of government officials, judges, lawyers and police officers as well, even one former prime minister. The red Brigades split into factions in 1984 and apparently disintegrated. Their last known killing was a government economic adviser in 2002.


MANN: It was not an ETA attack. In the first hours after the 2004 Madrid train bombings, Spain's government blamed ETA, and although Islamic radicals were responsible, the impact on ETA proved to be enormous.

Many Spaniards believe that terrible day turned even ETA supports away from terrorism.

Welcome back.

Spaniards went to the polls just three days later and elected Prime Minister Zapatero, and he made ending Basque terrorism a priority. His government, as we've heard, has coupled a policy of aggressive police work with the public offer of talks.

Joining us now to talk about that is the Spanish Ambassador to the United States Carlos Westendorp.

Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.

Why do you think this happened? Was it a sincere change of heart? Was it fading public support? Or was it the fact that the entire ETA leadership, or hundreds of its leaders, anyway, are now behind bars?

CARLOS WESTENDORP, SPANISH AMB. TO U.S.: Yes, well, I think it is mainly the Spanish society as a whole, that after more than 30 years of violence an crimes have come to say no to violence and terror. This is the main achievement. It's an achievement of the Spanish society.

Of course different governments in Spain have been fighting against this scourge, and finally ETA was totally disbanded in a very bad situation, but not inactive. They have shown recently that they could do more things. And this is why the news that we have heard today is very good news.

MANN: In May of last year the Spanish parliament voted to authorize negotiations with ETA if it declared an unconditional and permanent ceasefire. For the record, can the talks now begin? Are all the barriers broken down? Or are there still some steps before the negotiations can get underway?

WESTENDORP: The fact is, and we have to take it at its face value, that ETA has said that they will have a ceasefire on a permanent basis, and this is something that has to be fulfilled in practice. A ceasefire, permanent ceasefire, is good news in itself, but, of course, it has to be taken with a lot of caution, with a lot of prudence, as the prime minister has said, Prime Minister Zapatero has said, because there are other occasions, other opportunities, where ETA has said something and they didn't fulfill it.

So this is a good step but needs to be proved.

MANN: What does the government plan to do to show good faith for its part? There is one particular measure that seems that it could take, which is to allow Batasuna to reenter the political sphere legally. Is that in the cards, do you think?

WESTENDORP: I think in this kind of process that hopefully will open -- many options are open. And I suppose you can not discard any one of them, provided first that they are done with a respect of the constitution, with a respect of democracy, democratic principles, with a respect of the law, and in this framework a negotiation process to finish with violence is open. And so far, it's just started, and the prudence and caution is something that is necessary.

But the main thrust of this operation is to rally with the government all political forces in Spain. Prime Minister Zapatero has called directly, immediately, Mr. Lahoy (ph), who is the leader of the PP, of the opposition, and he will talk also to the president of the Basque government. So to reach out all political parties is fundamental. All democratic forces must be united in this negotiation.

MANN: What is going to happen, do you think, to ETA's demands? Among the things that ETA is calling for is a referendum on Basque independence. Can there be peaceful negotiations that end up with that kind of a vote?

WESTENDORP: Well, this is very premature, to be saying. The only thing I can say so far is that self determination or a referendum is not allowed by the Spanish constitution.

MANN: So there is a limit, really, to what the government can offer?

WESTENDORP: Absolutely. Absolutely. There are limits, and these limits are the constitution and the democratic rights.

MANN: So let me ask you, not to negotiate with the Basques on your own part, but what could they get, in theory? How far could the government easily go? What's within the range of the possible?

WESTENDORP: The majority of the Basque population are in favor of a peaceful solution. That's clear. And on the other hand, the majority of the Basque population are in favor of a kind of an arrangement with the rest of Spain, which is definitely to lead to independence. That's very clear.

But of course there are issues that can be discussed. Spain is a quasi-federal country. The present situation can be improved, as we have been seeing in the case of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), their statute for autonomy for self governance has been changed, has been approved now by the relevant committee in the Spanish parliament. So something similar would be the case of the Basque country, another region with a very strong personality, with their own language, and which claim a degree of self government in accordance with their autonomy.

MANN: Carlos Westendorp, Spanish ambassador to the United States, thanks so much for this.

We take another break. When we come back, terrorists past and present. Europe's best known groups are going soft or gone entirely. Are the new terrorists even tougher to defeat?

Stay with us.



MANN (voice-over): Terrorists struck in London in July of 2005 and more than 50 people were killed. And then a second set tried to strike again. That very week, the IRA issued its declaration renouncing violence.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MIN.: I welcome the statement of the IRA that ends its campaign.

MANN: But instead of simply savoring the prospect of peace, the United Kingdom learned it would have to fight a new kind of terror instead.


Welcome back.

There is something more than just a new generation of terrorists in Europe. There is jihad. The nationalists and the Marxists have been succeeded by Islamists. Does that change the threat or the possible solutions?

Joining us now to talk about that is Mark Bailie, a terrorism analyst at the Center for Defense and Intelligence Studies.

Thanks so much for being with us.

ETA looks like it may really be laying down its arms for now, but as the Spaniards learned on March 11, 2004, terrorism isn't going away. Is the threat very different? Or is it just a different group, a different name, a different cause and the same thing fundamentally?

MARK BAILIE, CTR. FOR DEFENSE & INTELLIGENCE STUDIES: There are a lot of similarities. ETA, of course, hasn't gone away, as the prime minister, the ambassador and various other Spanish politicians have pointed out. You need a lot of prudence with this declaration, which comes with a lot of conditions. It's a negotiation ploy. It's not -- they haven't surrendered anything or given up anything.

As for the newness of Islamist terrorism, in practice there are a great number of similarities, above all the level of popular support that is necessary to carryout any kind of terrorist campaign.

MANN: That's an intriguing similarity. Let me ask you, though, Muslim groups have been in Spain obviously for centuries. There is a wonderful and long history of Islamic presence in Europe. But some of these groups are well known to the government that they were fighting. The British government got to know the Irish Republican Movement pretty well. The Spanish government got to know the Basque movement pretty well. Are they starting closer to scratch when they're taking on the Islamists?

BAILIE: Sure, just as with any new terrorist group. They have sprung up and occasionally disappeared over the last 30 or 40 years all over Western Europe. There is a new aspect here in some ways with the language difficulty. There are a huge number of languages to be mastered when dealing with Islamist terrorism. Just taking Afghanistan or Pakistan by itself, you have a great number of dialects which are almost mutually incomprehensible to the citizens of those countries let alone any foreign intelligence services. And there is the international connection.

But we have to bear in mind that in most Western countries, the Islamist terrorist threat is not an external threat, not a foreign threat. It's an internal threat from its own citizens. The 7th of July bombings in London were carried out by people born and bred in Britain.

MANN: So is this going to be harder now than it has been in the past? Or essentially the same?

BAILIE: It's going to be very similar in many ways. The difficulty is above all not learning the lessons of history. This sort of thing has happened many times in many countries in Western Europe and all over the world, and there are many similarities in the lessons to be learned about what to do right and what to do wrong. Unfortunately, the lesson of any war is that people don't learn the lessons of the previous one and there are a great deal of similarities, a great deal of techniques that can be learned and harnessed. And in the case of Britain, of course, most recently in Northern Ireland.

MANN: Now, in Britain, it was clear after a certain point that politics could solve a problem that police work alone could not. The Republican movement was willing to negotiate. Elsewhere, there has also been a politicization of these problems, or at least a political approach to them. People are willing to talk.

Can you ever see a day when al Qaeda does what ETA did today?

BAILIE: First of all, you have to wonder what solution means in the context of political solution. In the case of the IRA, they gained a huge amount of political space for their activities, they have retained control of a very large criminal empire of property smuggling finance, which is used to finance their political campaign in the Republic of Ireland, which is becoming a threat to the Irish government. So you could say that the fight has moved to new terrain.

Now, if al Qaeda, or any of its constituent parts -- it's not exactly an organization, it's an association of people with common interests -- if they were close to achieving control of a country or some tangible objective that they actually wanted, maybe they would be ready to negotiate. For the time being, they're not close enough to any specific objective that would actually be achievable.

MANN: David Bailie, of the Center for Defense and International (sic) Security Studies, thanks so much for talking with us.

That's INSIGHT. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines