In final letter to Spain, Basque separatists ETA end 'all political activity'

After waging a decadeslong struggle, ETA's announcement has marked the definitive end to its bloody campaign for an independent state. But some have rejected the separatist group's declaration, calling it "propaganda."

Basque militant group ETA announced on Thursday that it has "completely dismantled all its structures," marking a definitive end to its decadeslong struggle for independence from Spain.

News | 28.12.2013

In what the group dubbed as a "final" letter, ETA said it "put an end to all its political activity," adding that it "will no longer express political positions, promote initiatives or interact with other actors."

Read more: ETA prisoners recognize pain caused by bloody campaign

"ETA wished to end a cycle of the conflict between the Basque Country and the Spanish and French states; the cycle of the use of political violence," the group said.

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A dark history

Basque separatists formed ETA in 1959 in response to late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's repression of Basques, but its violent campaign emerged in 1968 with the killing of a police officer.

Read more: ETA's disarmament sows suspicion in Spain

Since then, the group has been involved in the deaths of more than 850 people, including the assassination of Franco's heir apparent Luis Carrero Blanco in 1973. In Blanco's case, the separatists dug a tunnel under the road he drove down for daily Mass and filled it with explosives, detonating them as he passed by.

By 2011, ETA had faced major setbacks with the arrest of most of its leadership. That year, it announced an indefinite ceasefire. It finalized the disarmament process last year, marking the end of the group's bloody campaign to establish an independent state.


What is ETA?

An old man walks past graffiti depicting the logo of Basque separatist group ETA in Goizueta, Spain. ETA (an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, which roughly translates to Basque Country and Freedom) is a formerly-armed nationalist and separatist organization in the Basque Country in northern Spain and southwestern France.


ETA's transition

A worker removes graffiti reading 'Gora ETA' (Long live ETA) in support of the group in downtown Pamplona, in northern Spain. ETA, considered a terrorist organization by the EU, was founded in 1959. Initially, it concentrated on promoting traditional Basque culture but later it evolved into a paramilitary group, engaging in a violent campaign of bombing, assassinations and kidnappings.


A bloody campaign

Part of a 14-story building seen after a car bomb explosion in July 2009, in the Spanish city of Burgos. The bombing was blamed on ETA. The group engaged in a bloody campaign to carve out an independent Basque state from parts of northern Spain and southern France between 1968 and 2010. During that time, the group carried out roughly 4,000 terrorist attacks that left 829 people dead.


Assassination that changed history

ETA's first revolutionary gesture was to fly the banned "ikurrina," the red and green Basque flag. In 1973, the group targeted Luis Carrero Blanco, long-time confidant of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. The assassination changed the course of Spanish history as it led to the exiled king reclaiming the throne and a shift to a constitutional monarchy.


The big announcement

ETA’s first known victim was a secret police chief in San Sebastian in 1968 and its last a French policemen shot in 2010. The group announced ceasefires earlier in 1989, 1996, 1998, 2006 and 2010. In 2011, ETA announced a "definitive cessation of its armed activity." The group announced on April 7, 2017 that it had given up all its weapons and explosives and would be officially disarming.


Dissolution in exchange for amnesty

In January 2017, thousands of Spanish people protested for ETA prisoners to be relocated to jails close to their places of origin. ETA sought to negotiate its dissolution in exchange for amnesty or improved prison conditions for roughly 350 of its members held in Spain and France.


Independence via peaceful means

Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the former Basque independence Batasuna party, as he left the Spain's Logrono prison in March 2016. In an interview this week in the Basque seaside city of San Sebastian, Otegi welcomed the disarmament move. The 58-year-old also insisted that independence for his Basque homeland remains very much in the cards - but via peaceful means this time.


A chapter comes to an end

French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said, "this stage of neutralizing an arsenal of arms and explosives is a major step." Meanwhile, Spain demanded that ETA apologize for decades of violence and then disband definitively. In a statement, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the arms cache move signaled the "definitive defeat" of ETA.


But some remain skeptical of the group's intentions, with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy describing ETA's latest remarks as "propaganda."

Read more: Is Catalan independence a second coup in democratic Spain?

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"No matter what ETA does, there is no room for impunity for its crimes. ETA can announce its disappearance but its crimes do not disappear nor do the efforts to pursue and punish them," Rajoy said on Thursday.

"We won't owe them anything and we have nothing to thank them for."

ETA members have reportedly planned a press conference for Friday.

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ls/sms (AFP, AP)