What Spain Didn't Get for Christmas

It seemed like old news before it even happened. When the Basque terror group ETA announced on Monday that it was calling a “permanent, unrestricted and internationally verifiable” halt to the campaign of murderous violence it has been waging since 1968, a day-long curtain of sullen silence fell over the Moncloa presidential palace. Not a whole lot of cheering was heard from the rest of Spain, either.

When Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba finally appeared before reporters, he observed that ETA’s move was “good news, but not the good news we were hoping for.” He added that “the only communiqué we want to read is the one where ETA says that it is going out of business and makes it irreversible and definitive.”

In a hastily scheduled television appearance that same evening, Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero chanted the same two-word mantra he has been trying to get Spaniards to internalize as a way of dealing with the country’s acute economic woes. He urged them to exercise “prudence and caution.”

“Those who may have perceived elements for hope should bear in mind that the road ahead is a long one, because the only thing that counts is when the gang reaches its defnitive end,” the Spanish prime minister said. “We will accept no conditions, no type of political conditions, that might serve the gang’s puposes.”

As if to underscore  that there was more to Zapatero’s newfound toughness than just talk, French police immediately arrested the man said to be ETA’s main expert on computers and encryption, while on the other side of the border, Civil Guards took the suspect’s girlfriend into custody.

In ETA’s two-minute, made-for-TV video presentation, a hooded gunman claimed to be making a good faith gesture for negotiations with the Madrid government on a mutually acceptable “political path” for the pursuit of  ETA's separatist goals. It said it was “firmly committed to a process leading to a definitive solution on the political future” of northern Spain’s three Basque provinces which would in turn allow for an end to the “armed conflict” that has claimed over 800 lives .

So what’s not to be glad about?

As Rubalcaba rightly noted, the terrorists are demanding that negotiations be conducted back to front, with one of the parties  reserving the right to decide whether it will be bound by their outcome. But the government wants ETA to lay down its arms for good before any negotiations on rewriting the constitution, the territorial reconfiguration of Spain, and a blanket amnesty for some 600+ jailed ETA terrorists can even be contemplated.