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Homeland Security: Basque ETA Terrorist Organization Essay


Introduction

ETA is the acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, which is a Basque terrorist organization whose history can be traced back in 1959 when it was established. In its foundation years, the group’s main objective was to promote Basque traditional culture. However, it later evolved into a paramilitary organization pursuing goals such as seeking independence for the Basque nation (Martinez-Herrera 214). As an organization that forms Basque national liberation movement, ETA is mainly involved in conflicts that have been witnessed in the entire Basque region. Since its formation, it has evolved to pursue other activities other than promoting the traditional culture of Basque. The group has been associated with several acts of terrorism. For instance, in1968, the organization was declared by Spain and the entire Europe nations as having taken central roles for killing more than 829 people while seriously maiming scores of others together with conducting several series of kidnappings (Martinez-Herrera 214). This act made America, Britain, Spain, and French declare officially that the group was a terrorist organization.

By 2011, approximately 700 persons of the group were taken in a variety of jails across France and Spain among other nations. Indeed, in September 2010, the organization made yet another ceasefire declaration before announcing “a definitive session of its armed activity” in 2011 (Bew, Frampton, and Gurruchaga 197). In November 2012, ETA expressed its willingness to engage in negotiation with the Spanish movement in the effort to cease its illegal activities and break into parts completely. However, this move has not yet happened. It remains to be treated by French, Spain, the U.S., and Britain as a terrorist group. With these promises for reformation given by the ETA and the circumstances leading to the making of such declarations, this research paper presents the history of ETA, discusses its goals, methodologies, organizational demographics, funding, and its effectiveness. Lastly, the paper addresses the question of whether or not it is possible for ETA to shed its use of terrorism while maintaining itself as an effective agent of change.

History of ETA

ETA emerged from Ekin, which was a group of students, which was frustrated by Basque nationalist party’s (BNP) stance of passiveness in addressing dictatorship issues exacerbated by Franco. BNP has operated a hegemonic opinionated party within the Basque territories right from the 1910s. The party is divided into two main separate entities. The moderates seek to have autonomy within Spain while the radicals’ quest is to gain full independence (Sanchez-Cuenca 3). Basque comprises people who are ethnically distinct living within the BAC (Basque Autonomous Community). This region is made up of three major provinces of North Spain-Vizcaya, Alava, and Guipuzcoa. 2006 statistics indicated that BAC had a population of about 2.1 million people (Bew, Frampton and Gurruchaga 198). Although BAC is an administrative region recognized internationally, ETA further claims it as a country larger than just three provinces. The organization claims, “three provinces of southern France and Navarre together with BAC are part of the Basque country, which they seek its independence through the unification of all seven provinces to constitute one state” (Sanchez-Cuenca 4).

The merging of Ekin and EGI in the early 1950s marked the initial stages for the establishment of ETA. EGI was a young organization allied to BNP (Sanchez-Cuenca 4). EGI had a significant outlook towards issues of nationalism, thus leading to its division together with exclusion from the BNP position. The group, which combined Ekin and EGI, laid down its foundational charter (Sanchez-Cuenca 4) in July 1959. The charter defined the group as an organization uninterested in religious and political issues. It also stated that the group was patriotic with a goal of “saving the Basque soul and the self-determination of our homeland’s destiny” (Sanchez-Cuenca 5). At this stage, the Spanish government hardly conceived that the group would later evolve to indulge in acts of terrorism.

ETA engaged in rather naïve activities at its early years of existence. It first engaged in Graffiti, which was a forbidden activity of hoisting Basque flag (Sanchez-Cuenca 5). It also destroyed symbols belonging to Franco. The most severe criminal activity partaken by ETA was the intimidation of a train shipping Franco’s allies heading for his commemoration event at the wake of 1960. The goal was to derail the train to cut the journey short. These acts attracted heavy reactions from the authority, thus prompting myriads of arrests of the activists. Many of the ETA members relocated to the French Basque country (Martinez-Herrera 215). The organization derived two main strategies for dealing with dictatorship. The first strategy was to emphasize class struggles. The second strategy was seeking national liberation (Garmendia 8). In fact, according to Garmendia, these two approaches to liberation caused heavy divisions of the ETA in the 1960s (8). Early ideologies of ETA were framed according to Marxist or socialist jargons as constituting a nationalist group that sought liberation based on colonialist experiences. Unfortunately, Basque country was not colonized by Spain (Garmendia 11). It also never encountered situations to prompt the putting in place of an effort for revolution based on reasons of class struggles. These differences further led to divisions of the ETA to the extent that 1966 through 1967 expulsion of orthodox communists occurred, thus forcing them to form ETA Berri as the new ETA that lived for a short time.

The first case of the murder of state forces by ETA-affiliated militants occurred in 1968. Javier Enchebarrieta, an ETA leader, killed a civil guard when he was stopped. He went underground although he was later shot dead. This episode marked the beginning of a series of violent acts acerbated by ETA towards the authorities including the judiciary members, which have since lasted for more 40 years (Garmendia 13). Indeed, in August 1968, ETA decided to retaliate the killing of its leader by killing Meliton Manzana claiming that he was torturing political prisoners. This led to a heavy reaction by the regime culminating into the declaration of a state of emergency across the Basque Provinces. The declaration was later extended to entire Spain.

The most successful assassination conducted by ETA was in 1973 when Luis Carrero Blanco was assassinated. Blanco stood out as the most probable heir of Franco. He was killed when a bomb set by ETA members exploded below his car (Garmendia 17). After two decades, ETA also tried to murder Maria Aznar, the head of resistance who found his ranks to become a principal minister of Spain. The position of the organization has been shifting especially upon the closing stages of Franco’s totalitarian era, thus marking the onset of egalitarianism in Spain in the late 1970s (Garmendia 41). The Basque region acquired a parliament in 1980. It also got the power to control its own taxes. Nevertheless, even with this autonomy over control of Basque affairs, the separatists constituting ETA did not stop pursuing their goals. However, attacks by security machinery on the ETA have made the organization immensely shrink, often resorting to making several ceasefire declarations. Unfortunately, the ceasefire declarations are not backed by actions. Indeed, over the recent past years, the origination has conducted several bombing attacks such as the ones conducted in 2004, 2005, and 2006. These bombings were conducted with warning having been issued. Hence, no casualties were reported.

Goals

ETA is a nationalist group whose main goal is to yield independence of Basque country. The organization focuses on attaining this goal, which has seen it withstand several regime changes. Such changes have resorted to making the organization undergo several internal splits, alterations of operational strategies, and processes of devolution (Martinez-Herrera 216). The organization has also engaged in several negotiations with the government of Spain. It has declared a number of ceasefires together with encountering several changes affiliated to attacks by security forces. The attacks have hindered immensely the goal of the organization to liberate Basque citizens residing within some regions in France and Spain.

Another goal of ETA is to inculcate a strong spirit of nationalism among the Basque people. Indeed, the organization was formed from discomforts with moderate nationalism portrayed by the Basque party- Basque national party (Garmendia 7). The illegalization of the activities of the organization and interference with its activities by the state machinery has seen the organization execute several attacks within France and Spain among other places. Currently, it has abandoned pursuits of its strategy of using terrorist activities targeting the official of the government of Spain and business people to gain its goals. However, the organization is still believed by international political critics to have tight ties with terrorist groups living within the Basque regions and other places such as Venezuela and Ireland.

Methodologies

Terrorist organizations seek to increase their membership through recruitments. For them to achieve this goal, they must appeal to the society within which they operate by deploying different methodologies. For instance, Hamas is a group that conducts terrorist activities. However, it ensures to provide welfare services including healthcare and schooling (McCormick & Guillermo 378). The success of such a methodology is dependent on the existence of welfare provision gap by the state. However, this is not the case for Spain. ETA used the methodology of maneuvering various communal campaigns such as antimilitarists and environmentalists in the bid to infiltrate them.

ETA’s main methodology for penetration is the utilization of personal networks (Garmendia 78). Militants operating in the organization are socialized people. Whether in jail or not, they have friends and relatives. In case persons have suffered from state repression at a personal level or shared such experience with their close friends, they are lured into the organization since it promises to fight for the people’s right so that such repressions do not occur. In some instances, the organization trains young people to engage in street violence. In the fear of arrest, such young people look for hideouts, something that the organization provides subject to subscribing to its membership. In support of this methodology for recruitment, Garmendia adds, “youngsters are trained in acts of street violence so that in the fear of arrest, they go underground” (65). This implies that, in one way or another, they find their way into the ETA’s ranks. Once they have joined, it becomes hard to move out since one becomes the target of the state security machinery. Hence, one must remain underground. The underground hideouts are provided by the organization.

Organizational Demographics

ETA is a terrorist group whose operations are confined within Basque country. Basque is an ethnically discrete assembly of people, mainly believers living within hilly sections extending from the boundary of France and Spain (Garmendia 9). They are also linguistically distinct from all other groups of people living in Spain and France. Within the three chief provinces, which make up the Basque region, there is a population of about 2.1million people capable of communication in the Basque language frequently (Bew, Frampton, and Gurruchaga 199). Included in the list of Basque nationalism is also the minority group of people, which converses in the Basque language living within the Navarre province in Spain and other 3 departments located in the southwest part of France.

Although all members of ETA are derived from Basque, not all Basques subscribe to the membership of the organization. ETA is not an insurgency organization. Hence, it has very few members. Discussion of demographic characteristics of the organization in terms of numbers demands clear separation of the core members of the organization; those people charged with leadership coupled with direct engagement in armed confrontations, and the people who aid in the operation of the organization, but do not openly declare themselves affiliated to the group. This last group of people encompasses people who aid in the gathering of intelligence, aid in border crossing or offers to house to the hardcore members of the organization secretly.

Estimations from different sources indicate that hardcore members of ETA were less than 500 people when the group launched offensive attacks against the state. For instance, Garmendia puts the number of ETA’s hardcore members in 1978 at 300 to 350 people (51). However, Bew, Frampton, and Gurruchaga argue that this number has since decreased because scores of people have been killed (199). The number of the organization’s members reduced throughout the 1980s implying difficulties in the recruitment of new members on the arrest of the existing hardcore members. In 1992, the entire leadership team was arrested causing high shrinkage of the organization’s hardcore members. In recent years, Bew, Frampton, and Gurruchaga approximate that the number of hardcore members is in the order of 100 or even less (199). No reliable sources indicate the number of non-hardcore members of ETA either as a whole group or in terms of demographic characteristics such as gender and age among others.

ETA is hierarchically structured with the most senior position being taken by members of the executive committee. The committee makes all crucial decisions. It lays down systematically all objectives and goals of the organization that are complied with by all other members of the organization. Cooptation approach is deployed to select executive committee members (Sanchez-Cuenca 9). The formal structure of the organization does not provide a room for any specific person to become the leader. The executive committee takes charge of all the organization’s branches including logistical, political, border-crossing, financial, and military branches. Demographically, all stakeholders of this managerial board are drawn from France. No executive members are accountable to the militancy or any part of the ETA body.

Funding

ETA depends largely on kidnappings, tax extortions, and robberies to fund its illegal activities. Tax extortions are done forcibly from the business people. The organization has been running on a large budget often characterized by deficits. In this line of argument, in 2007, police reports in Spain indicated, “after the serious blows suffered by ETA and its political counterparts during the 2000s, its budget would have been adjusted to 2,000,000 Euros annually” (Bew, Frampton, and Gurruchaga 204). In spite of using robbery as the chief source of funding illegal activities at its inception stages, the group evolved to engage in other activities including trafficking of illegal firearms. Bank robberies evolved to become risky activities for sourcing funds by the organization since it led to the creation of collateral victims (Sanchez-Cuenca 9). With bank robberies being not an option, the group has been benefiting economically from its close political allies such as Batasuna.

The kidnappings done by ETA are meant to extort ransoms from people across Spain and France. Indeed, according to Sanchez-Cuenca, kidnappings have been a prevalent means of gaining financial resources throughout the history of the existence of ETA (9). However, kidnappings are not only conducted with economic motivations since some are politically motivated. They are not a preferred source of funds since they are unstable due to the uncertainties of their outcomes. In some cases, police intervene to rescue the kidnapped people from places where they have been hidden or families of the kidnapped people refuse to cooperate with the ransom demands. Additionally, kidnappings attract heavy media attention creating ‘mafia’ image (Martinez-Herrera 215). This drawback makes kidnappings unpopular to many supporters of ETA, thus prompting the organization to give up on them as from 1996.

Trafficking of drugs is yet another illegal activity that helped the organization to gain financial resources to fund its activities. Following the bombing of the World Trade Center in the US during the September 11 attacks, the European Union and the US moved in strategically to conduct an extensive freeze on all assets owned by the organization (Natash 17). This resulted in a heavy blow on the organization to continue with its illegal activities due to financial constraints. Consequently, the group relies on extortion as the main activity for financing its illegal activities.

Extortion requires the organization to have a dense and extensive network consisting of people positioned in different areas to collect money on behalf of ETA’s top management. Through extortions, entrepreneurs together with owners of shops are required to pay ‘evolutionary taxes’. The success of extortions as the primary source of funds requires enforcement and creation of fear. This effort has led to the killing of about eight people for financial motivations (Natash 18). Guerrillas also extort funds from people living in regions enlightened from the central government.

Effectiveness of ETA

The effectiveness of a movement is dependent on its ability to achieve its goals (McCormick and Guillermo 378). Since 1968, the organization has always endeavored to acquire independence for the Basque country without success. It has considered changing its strategies. However, it has not also been successful. Various challenges have resulted in internal fragmentations of the organization with its membership declining significantly (Bew, Frampton, and Gurruchaga 198). Although the organization has been successful in executing terrorist attacks in the past, such attacks have only been used to serve as a means of gaining its overall goal. However, they cannot be used to indicate the effectiveness of ETA.

ETA’s sources of funding have been reducing as years move on. This has pushed the organization to seek new ways of getting finances, which are later abandoned when they become unpopular or ineffective. ETA’s ineffectiveness became even more pronounced when its assets were frozen following the September 11 attacks (Natash 17). Repeated declarations to ceasefire and explorations of democratic ways for achieving ETA’s goals are also signs of the growing ineffectiveness of the organization.

Possibility for shedding the use of Terrorism

The possibility of ETA to cease from engaging in terrorist activities while continuing maintaining its effectiveness in operating as an agent of change is dependent on the commitment of the organization to abide by its ceasefire declarations. However, this position is not a probable outcome. Apart from 1989, 1996, and 1998 ceasefire declarations, the organization has also made other declarations for a ceasefire. However, it has never honored them.

In March 2006, ETA gave out a DVD to its Basque network, Gara and Berria carrying information from the organization informing that it had arrived at the decision to ceasefire permanently. This information was publicly broadcasted over Spain’s national TV. Later, the organization engaged in open dialogue with the president of Spain Luis Rodriguez (Sanchez-Cuenca 23). The deliberations and dialogue with the group took place throughout 2006 with the organization’s followers still engaging in criminal activities including theft of handguns, spare parts, and ammunition from France’s cells (Sanchez-Cuenca 25). During the talks, the organization also issued several threats. For instance, on 23 September 2006, masked militants of the organization were captured claiming that they would not keep off arms. They were to maintain this position up to the time they would succeed in their goal of making Basque country independent with strong socialist approaches to governance instilled in place (Abadie and Gardeazabal 121). Some Political analysts saw this as a strategy for making the organization have an improved position in the talks while others saw it as a mechanism of increasing pressure so that the group does not appear desperate for seeking peace. Even though this was a noble opportunity for the organization to reform and become peaceful and an effective force of change amid the agreements to a ceasefire, ETA never honored its promise. In fact, in late 2006, the organization attacked a building in Madrid intercontinental landing field butchering two people of Ecuadorian refugees. This prompted President Luis Rodriguez to issue a statement declaring the end of the negotiations.

Probability for shedding the use of terrorism while still maintaining its effectiveness as an agent of change calls for ETA to abandon terrorist activities to explore democratic routes for attaining its goals. The question here is whether this move is possible. Evidence derived from the organization’s history in its quest for liberating Basque country shows that ETA has considered using democratic routes as one of its strategies for accomplishing its objectives without success. ETA’s spokesperson announced through a video link the decision of the organization to explore democratic and peaceful means for arriving at its objectives and aims. However, the spokesperson never commented on whether the declared ceasefire was permanent. Burns quotes the spokesperson saying “the group was “prepared today as yesterday to agree to the minimum democratic conditions necessary to put in motion a democratic process if the Spanish government is willing” (13). While politicians allied to the Basque nationalism said the move was positive and that the international governments together with the Spanish government needed to respond appropriately, the interior chancellor for Spain in charge of Basque claimed that the statement lacked finality of the organization’s decision to shun from engagement in terrorist activities.

Mixed reactions from various sources on the ceasefire announcement made by ETA made the organization come out clear on the status of its 2010 ceasefire declaration in 2011. ETA stated with finality that the ceasefire decision was permanent. To clear the doubts, ETA stated that the decision was open to verification by observers from international fronts. This was perhaps an important starting point for the organization to cease from engaging in terrorism to become an effective change agent. However, observers lamented that the declaration made by ETA was unreliable since the organization had a history of breaking permanent declarations for a ceasefire. President Luis Rodriguez said that the declaration by ETA was only valid if it committed itself to refrain from engagement in violent criminal activities permanently.

After attending an international peace conference held on Donostia-San Sebastian, ETA announced its decision to stop all armed activities through a video clip distributed to all media platforms. Tony Blair and President Luis Rodriguez welcomed the move by describing it as an immense achievement of democracy, the power of reason, and more importantly, the respect for the law (Burns 14). However, the organization did not meet the demand of the Spanish government to renounce its independence endeavors. When the new president for Spain, Mariano Rajoy, came into power, he was concerned about this indecisiveness. He insisted on the importance of pushing for comprehensive termination of ETA.

Inferring from the above discussion, it is evident that ETA has almost given up in terrorist activities as chief means of liberating Basque people. It seeks to operate as an agent of change by exploiting democratic channels. Important to note is, “while ETA pledged to refrain from a violent separatist movement, the separatist movement was not denounced” (Burns 14). Indeed, the organization restated its commitment to continue with Basque homeland struggles, but via the deployment of democratic approaches.

The above claim implies that the goals of the organization have not yet been changed. ETA has only altered its means of fighting for its goals. This approach requires incredible, reliable, and trustworthy negotiation between ETA and the new government under the leadership of Center-right People’s Party. The party is opposed to socialist systems of control, which are explored by ETA. The party is also dominated by pressures within it advocating for refusal of any negotiation with ETA. This poses uncertainty for ETA to shed the use of terrorism while still maintaining its effectiveness as an agent of change under an environment in which new strategies for fighting for change are facing challenges in terms of inadequate commitment of the new government to engage in negotiation with the organization.

Conclusion

ETA was born in 1959 due to the discontents of Basque nationalists over the way in which the larger Basque nationalist party handled Basque people’s nationalist issues. The organization evolved to engage in terrorist activities in the effort to garner funds to run its operations by engaging in acts such as kidnappings, bank robberies, extortions, and drug trafficking among others. Due to government interference with the operation of the organization by engaging it with security machinery, the organization has not been able to grow steadily. Freezing of its assets following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, US made the organization even weaker due to financing limitations. Many of its means of financing such as kidnappings and bank robberies became immensely risky, thus making the organization resort to extortion through ‘revolutionary taxes’ as the only means of raising funds. Since this was not an adequate source, the organization suffered immense challenges weakening it further to the extent that it became ineffective.

The organization started seeking other strategies of achieving its goal of acquiring independence of the Basque country. Such strategies included several ceasefire declarations, which have often been broken. However, in 2011, ETA made a final decision to cease from engaging in armed activities together with engaging in terrorist activities permanently, with a plan to explore democratic routes to achieve its goals. As revealed in the paper, this presented an opportunity for the organization to become an effective agent of change. However, the new Spanish government, under the leadership of Center-right People’s Party has constantly expressed its unwillingness to engage ETA in negotiations. This unwillingness leaves a big question on the probability for ETA to shed the use of terrorism while still maintaining its effectiveness as an agent of change.

Works Cited

Abadie, Alberto, and Jon Gardeazabal. “The Economic Costs of Conflict: A Case Study of the Basque Country. American Economic Review 9.3(2007): 113-131. Print.

Bew, John, Martyn Frampton, and Inigo Gurruchaga. Talking to Terrorists: Making Peace in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country. London: Hurst & Co., 2011. Print.

Burns, John. “Basque Separatists Halt Campaign of Violence.” The New York Times. 2012: 13-14. Print.

Garmendia, Jose. Historia de ETA. San Sedanstian: Aramburu, 1996. Print.

Martinez-Herrera, Enric. “National Extremism and Outcomes of State Policies in the Basque County, 1979-2001.” International Journal on Multicultural Studies 4.1(2002): 214-219. Print.

McCormick, Gordon, and Owen Guillermo. “Revolutionary Origins and Conditional Mobilization.” European Journal of Political Economy 12.3(2006): 377-402. Print.

Natash, Elizabeth. “Bank accounts linked to Eta are frozen in Liechtenstein.” The Independent. 2008: 17-18. Print.

Sanchez-Cuenca, Ignacio. The Persistence of Nationalist Terrorism: The Case of ETA. Madrid, Center for Advanced Study in the Social Politics, 2008. Print.

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