SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (Reuters) - Thirty-three years after Basque separatists ETA killed police chief Carlos Diaz Arcocha with a car bomb, his daughter says the group, whose dissolution was made public on Wednesday, achieved nothing and sowed only fear and sadness.
“In principle it is good news that they are not killing. Of course, it’s great that there are no more victims, but under no circumstances should we be thanking ETA,” Teresa Diaz Bada said.
“All these years of terrorism were for nothing,” she said in her office in the coastal town of San Sebastian, where a black and white photograph of her father sits on the desk.
Diaz Arcocha was one of around 850 people ETA killed in an ultimately futile 50-year campaign to create an independent state in northern Spain and southern France, a toll for which it apologised last month.
ETA had been expected to announce its final dissolution, ending Western Europe’s last significant militant movement, later this week. But a letter dated April 16 and published by Diario online newspaper on Wednesday declared that ETA had “completely dissolved all its structures and ended its political initiative”.
In the letter, ETA said it wanted to “open a new political cycle”. But the end of its campaign has not erased bitterness towards militants who killed 21 people in a single attack at a Barcelona supermarket in 1987. In 1980, the bloodiest year in ETA’s history, it was responsible for about 100 deaths.
Arnaldo Otegi, leader of Basque pro-independence party EH Bildu, who served time in jail for his links with ETA, emphasised the group’s renunciation of violence.
“A chapter in which the independence movement used violent methods is closing,” he said. But he criticised the Spanish government, which holds around 225 ETA members in jail.
He compared Spain’s treatment of the Basque independence movement to that of the northeastern region of Catalonia, where Madrid has imposed direct rule to curb a secession bid, and judges have jailed pro-independence leaders.
“They keep laying out coercive measures, not just against the Basques but against the Catalans,” he said, adding that creating a Basque republic “could only be done through peaceful and democratic means”.
The savagery of ETA’s bomb attacks contributed to an erosion of popular support. Some say the Spanish state, which responded with illegal armed squads known as Anti-Terrorist Liberation Groups (GAL), should also apologise.
Several government and security officials later served jail time for their involvement in the GAL campaign.
“There were deaths and victims on all sides,” local pensioner Inaki, who declined to give his last name, said in a central square in San Sebastian.
“There were victims on ETA’s orders that there should never have been, but there shouldn’t have been so many victims of the state either,” Inaki said.
Between 1983 and 1986, the GAL killed 27 people, at least nine of them unconnected to ETA, and wounded many more, according to Paddy Woodworth, who has written in depth about ETA.
The Spanish government has said that all it wants from the situation is the dissolution of ETA.
Polls on support for independence vary, but one carried out in November by the university of Deusto showed just 14 percent of people in favour.
One factor credited with reining in popular agitation for Basque independence is economic prosperity tied to a high level of fiscal autonomy.
The region has one of the highest rates of economic output per capita and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Spain.
The Basque tax arrangement, which has its roots in the 19th century, is among the most generous of any region in Europe, and has been jealously eyed by pro-independence politicians in Catalonia.
“With such high levels of economic wellbeing, employment and all that, I think there were political deals made so as not to disturb the beast that was ETA,” said Teresa Diaz.
But Otegi said the economic deal left the region with control over around only half of its public resources, and his party would push for more. “We demand our total sovereignty in economic and social matters,” he said.
Additional reporting and writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Mark Heinrich