Republican News · Thursday 18 June 1998

[An Phoblacht]

Basque repression intensifies

Toirleach Mac Eochaidh reports from the Basque Country about recent arrests and the death of an ETA Volunteer

Some readers may be aware of the situation in the Basque Country at present. If not, that's understandable as the international press and audio-visual media has distorted the reality of the Basque-Spanish conflict. Invariably it becomes newsworthy only when the left independence movement can be portrayed as being merely the product of a few ``irrational terrorists''.

``Terrorist'' is the preferred word of the state to describe many different organisations that oppose the status quo. The image it conjures is successful in stifling debate on the reasons for conflict. In the last ten days in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) I observed the ever increasing terrorism of the state.

I arrived in the quiet fishing village of Hondarribia to find that five people had been arrested for allegedly ``collaborating with an armed organisation''. ``Collaboration'' is an all embracing term, used to arrest as many people as possible on as little evidence as possible. (The entire national executive of the political party Herri Batasuna were sentenced in a show trial on the same charge last year.)

Patricia Veldez was one of those arrested,in Hondarrribia, and so far the only one to be released. Her story, horrific in itself, is just a small part of the Spanish state's ``dirty war''.

Unknown to friends and family she was taken to Madrid to begin a five day period of interrogation. During this period she had no access to a lawyer or contact with friends. She was hooded for the interrogation process and therefore is unaware of the identity of the men who continuously threatened her with rape. She suffered shock treatment to her breasts; but she says the psychological torture was more unbearable than the physical beatings. During the interrogation the police questioning revealed that they had intimate and wide ranging knowledge of the everyday activites of her, her friends, family and associates. After the five days she was released without charge. She was ``free'' to return home (her husband is, thus far, not so lucky), ``free'' to be daily tormented by the fear of rape, ``free'' with the knowledge that her every move is being watched and recorded. ``Free'' to be mentally tortured.

Early on Friday 5 June the Basque police exploded their way into the flat of Inaxi Zeberio - an ETA activist who was also active with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua - and shot her dead. The police version of events is that the explosion wakened her, she sought her gun and opened fire. The police claim that it was then that she was shot.

The reaction of another occupant of the flat (who jumped through the window on the third floor) suggests that he believed that the police had more more ominous objectives. The claim of ``legitimate defence'' by the authorities is disputed by Herri Batasuna who see in these activities the continuation of a shoot-to-kill policy. None of the 10,000 peple who turned up to pay their last respects to Inaxi believe the official version of events.

The atmosphere I experienced over these days was tense and very emotional. In the taverns in Donostia where the Basque youth gather at weekends the mood was subdued and depressed. To make matters worse the police intensified their controls. The many visitors to the festival for the Basque language (Araba Euskaraz) endured long delays as car after car was searched by the Guardia Civil.

In the remote village of Lizarza thousands flocked to pay their last respects to Inaxi. Proceedings were delayed repeatedly as people continued to flow into the small town. The fear and sadness I had witnessed over the previous days subsided as the mourners listened to a description of Inaxi's activities at home and abroad. As fists were raised and the Irritzi wailed (a traditional means of communication used by shepherds) the mood was transformed from one of mutual sadness to one of strength, solidarity and courage. Afterwards the mourners returned to their distant towns and villages intent on publicly displaying their distaste at the recent police activities. These demonstrations were all met with the same reaction; volley after volley of rubber bullets were fired to disperse the demonstrators. The injuries received that night didn't receive media attention.

The Basque left has kept a close eye on events in Ireland and were hoping that a similar negotiation process could end the conflict in the Basque country. At the moment that possibility looks highly unlikely. The Spanish state reacted to their peace proposal - The Democratic Alternative - by jailing those promoting it. The state believes it will solve the conflict in the Basque country through intimidation and severe repressive measures. They believe they can counter opposition through terror.

The Basque people have long shown an interest in the conflict here and consistently shown solidarity with Irish republicans. Irish republicans must take a deeper look at the situation in Euskal Herria and examine how we can show our support during this difficult period. Without international pressure the Spanish government will continue to terrorise the Basque people and remain reticent in its refusal to negotiate an end to the conflict.

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