Irish Republican News · October 19, 2009
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Spanish crackdown on Basque politicians

The Spanish government has ended a new political initiative in the Basque country with the arrest of ten prominent pro-independence left activists.

The Spanish Interior Minister’s had threatened to take the action aganst former members of the outlawed Batasuna political party.

Among those arrested were Batasuna’s spokesperson Arnaldo Otegi and former trade union leader Rafa Diez.

Another one, Rufi Etxebarria, had been released from jail just one week ago after spending two years in prison for being a member of the Batasuna party.

Five of them were arrested inside trade union offices. All of them are being accused by the Spanish authorities and pro-Spanish media of reorganising the Basque pro-independence left’s leadership.

While some sort of repressive action was expected after weeks of strong Spanish criminalization and pressure the arrests have shocked and outraged the majority of Basque society.

Several political parties and the main trade unions have already spoken out against the operation. The arrests were criticised as political and preventing any new political initiative by the pro-independence left to bring peace to the Basque Country.

Pro-independence Basque groups have been involved in a strategic debate for the last few months in order to form a broader front with other progressive parties, trade unions and social organizations.

Over the last 13 years every time the pro-independence left has taken a new political step the Spanish authorities have responded with police operations.

Batasuna’s spokesperson Arnaldo Otegi is a good example of it as he has been arrested and imprisoned on numerous ocasions for his political work.

Just last week he was told he will be tried for the so called “Anoeta event” in 2004 when himself and other pro-independence representatives launched a peace proposal in front of 15,000 people.

The proposal was widely accepted and set the way for dialogue and resolution which led to the 2005 negotiations between the Basque armed group ETA and the Spanish government and ETA’s 2006 ceasefire.

Since 2002 the Basque left has had to organise in the most difficult conditions, mainly underground due to the Spanish authorities continuous criminalisation policies. However the pro-independence movement has always kept a public profile refusing to be silenced.

At a conference in Bilbao last week, United Nations Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin warned of the dangers of cutting off political avenues for peace.

Despite the attacks the Spanish authorities haven’t been able to stop the Basque pro-independence left’s political initiative and strength. Arnaldo Otegi, quoting Irish peace mediator Father Alec Reid, has repeated on many occasions that “the more reasonable our proposals are the more they’ll persecute us”.

Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brun described the arrests as “a step backwards”.

“Sinn Fein has argued the need to revive the Basque Peace Process. The banning of Batasuna, alongside the continued jailing of political representatives will in no way aid this task,” she said.

“It will further impede any search for forward progress, which requires that every effort be made to improve and encourage dialogue between all of the parties in the Basque Country and the Spanish government.

“Punitive measures and criminalisation from the Spanish authorities will not advance these goals.”

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© 2009 Irish Republican News