Change of government after Madrid bombs
The terrorist attacks on the commuter trains in Madrid on 11 March 2004 contributed to the change of government that followed a few days later. Aznar’s right – wing government had quickly identified ETA as responsible, despite the fact that the movement had never carried out an assassination attempt on such a large scale. It soon became apparent that Islamist extremists were behind the act and that Spain’s presence in Iraq was likely to be the trigger.
The new socialist government led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero abandoned the previous government’s uncompromising line towards ETA within a year and in April 2005 offered the movement a dialogue on whether the separatists renounced all violence. The various phalanxes within ETA could not agree on how to deal with the government’s proposal and as a demonstration a car bomb exploded in Madrid a few days later. A few months later, six imprisoned ETA veterans were expelled from the movement after they in an open letter called for an end to the violence.
It has also been said that the train bombings in Madrid became a turning point for ETA – one could no longer hope for the slightest sympathy for a fight with bombs after what the Islamist extremists had done. ETA also became an “irrelevant enemy” compared to the terrorist network al-Qaeda .
Even among the Basques themselves, the pressure on ETA increased. The growing civil rights movement Ya Basta! (“It’s enough now”) invited in 2005 Northern Ireland’s Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who spoke on the IRA’s path to peace talks.
According to shopareview, ETA had by this time been further weakened by the effective Franco-Spanish police cooperation north of the Pyrenees. In the autumn of 2004 and the autumn of 2005, two of the movement’s top leaders were arrested. And that ETA had problems was illustrated again in November 2005 when trials were opened against 56 of the people arrested during the years 1998-2002 for collusion with the separatists. They were accused of belonging to some organizations that carried out a large part of ETA’s activities in addition to the violence itself.
New ceasefire is promised – and broken
In early 2006, there were reports that members of the Socialist Party had had secret contacts with ETA representatives, and in March the movement announced that it had decided on a permanent ceasefire. The independence of the Basque Country would instead be achieved through political means. From many, the reaction was skeptical, not least from the opposition party PP, given that ETA had interrupted the temporary ceasefire seven years earlier. However, Prime Minister Zapatero explained that this could be the beginning of a long and difficult peace process.
In the summer of 2006, Zapatero announced that his government would enter into talks with ETA. The media reported on secret encounters, and in December the government and ETA were reported to have had a first formal meeting in third countries.
However, the talks came to an end quickly, when ETA carried out an explosion at Madrid airport with two fatalities as a result. The act prompted the government to suspend dialogue with ETA and Zapatero said it would not resume until ETA ended its crackdown.
The bombing also provoked strong protests and hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Madrid and Bilbao. The Conservative PP, as well as a group of representatives of ETA victims, refrained from participating in the demonstrations.
After the bombing, ETA announced that the ceasefire was still valid, but since the Supreme Court in the spring of 2007 banned more than 300 candidates from two Basque parties to run in a forthcoming local election, ETA also formally lifted the ceasefire. The two parties, the communist party Ehak, which participated in the 2005 elections (see above), and the Basque National Action , were completely banned in the autumn of 2008.
ETA declared in June 2007 that the ceasefire was over and that the fight would now be waged “on all fronts”. The government, in turn, declared that it would take the hard line against ETA. The very next day, the government overturned an earlier decision to have a jailed ETA leader, who went on hunger strike, serve the rest of his sentence in house arrest instead of in prison. The prisoner was returned to his cell. A few days later, an appellate court upheld a 15-month prison sentence handed down to Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi earlier this year. Otegi had been convicted of “glorifying terrorism” in a speech two years earlier.