ETA and state action: the development of Spanish antiterrorism

Abstract

On 20 October 2011 ETA announced the ‘definitive cessation of its armed activity’, which had been increasing since shortly after its inception in 1959. On 8 April 2017 it disarmed by handing over its weapons to intermediaries from civil society. On 2 May 2018 ETA announced its dissolution. This was the end of the last ongoing armed conflict in Europe from the wave of political violence – linked to national and class disputes – that swept over the continent starting in the 1960s. This article analyses the development of Spanish antiterrorism in relation to the Basque conflict, observing how a free and democratic Spanish state has responded to the challenge of an armed insurgency that has continued to the present. While the history of the organisation is well known, less so is the development of the reaction to deal with it. ETA’s progression cannot be understood in isolation, but rather needs to be placed into the context of the measures taken by the state, which influenced, shaped, and was shaped by it throughout the course of the conflict.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although several authors date ETA’s first victim to 1960 [3], it has not been included due to the lack of political or academic consensus.

  2. 2.

    On ETA’s origin and evolution see, among others, Jáuregui [8], Sullivan [9], Ibarra [10], Letamendía [11], Elorza [12], and Casanova [13], and Muro [14].

  3. 3.

    See [18, 19] for an analysis of variables that incentivised or discouragedd the dissolution of ETA.

  4. 4.

    Bergalli [32] notes the existence of a static criminal justice system – criminal, police, judicial, and penitentiary law – and a dynamic one – the police, the legal system, and prison. The latter is the one to which the article refers.

  5. 5.

    The concept ‘entorno’, which was created by the judge of the ‘Audiencia Nacional’, Baltasar Garzón, refers to individual citizens as well as social and political organisations who sympathised with the nationalist left and that the Spanish doctrine considered as an extension of the strategy of ETA, as a part an ‘ETA Complex’ [41]. In this text, entorno has not been translated (the same with Audiencia Nacional, which is the special court that is heir to the Francoist Public Order Court for terrorist offenses and other serious crimes), as it stems from the specific political culture of the context and moment.

  6. 6.

    The most important legal texts of the dictatorial period are: Law 42/1971 of November 15, which modified the ‘Law of Public Order’ of 1959; the Criminal Code of 1973; and the Decree-Law 10/1975 of 26 August. An extensive anti-terrorist law was approved with the ‘Decree-Law on Citizen Security’ of June 1978, which was validated by the Permanent Council of the Courts and the Congress Plenary (in February and December 1979).

  7. 7.

    Data from Adell [46] and updated by the author (see personal archive).

  8. 8.

    Article 13.3 of the 1978 Constitution states that terrorist activity is not political activity: ‘Extradition shall be granted only in compliance with a treaty or with the law, on the basis of the principle of reciprocity. Extradition shall be excluded for political offences; but acts of terrorism shall not be regarded as such’. Additionally, Article 55.2 introduces the possibility of establishing twin tracks in law: one ordinary and the other special.

  9. 9.

    Two press articles are good examples of the criticism at the time: on the Antiterrorism Act, see Bandrés [51] and on the ZEN Plan, see Uriarte [52].

  10. 10.

    This legal framework is complemented by the Organic Law 1/92 for the ‘protection of citizens’ security’ known as the ‘Corcuera Law’. In 1993 its controversial Article 21.2 on the entry into the domiciles without judicial authorization was struck down by the Constitutional Court.

  11. 11.

    About negotiations ETA-State see [57].

  12. 12.

    1995 saw the first victim from the PP, 1996 a member of the PSOE, 1997 two from the PP, 1998 four from the PP and one from the UPN, 2000 three from the PSOE and four from the PP, and 2001 one each from the PP, the PSOE, and the UPN. For more, see Letamendía [59].

  13. 13.

    During the 1990s there was a much higher number of acts of kale borroka between 1995 and 97 than for the rest of the decade. While there were 287 incidents in 1994, this jumped to 925 in 1995, 1113 in 1996, and 970 in 1997, thereafter decreasing to 205 in 1998. See Letamendía [59]. On the impact of urban guerrilla tactics on economic activity in the period see Barros et al. [61].

  14. 14.

    Similar to the Italian case. See [65].

  15. 15.

    There are different interpretations of the last negotiation process between ETA and the Spanish state: Sánchez-Cuenca [66] expresses sympathy for the actions undertaken by the Zapatero government as “making peace means talking to the enemy” [67], but Buesa [68] and Alonso [18, 19] are critical as adopting of a negotiated position bet, according to them, would have allowed the Abertzale left to strengthen itself politically.

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Ubasart-González, G. ETA and state action: the development of Spanish antiterrorism. Crime Law Soc Change 72, 569–586 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-019-09845-6

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