What Spain Didn't Get for Christmas

Another problem is agenda-related. The Zapatero government has vowed that ETA’s ultimate goal of an independent, racially delimited Basque mini-state in the heart of Europe is just not on the table.  But if and when ETA disarms, the government does not dispute that the group’s above-ground political front parties, banned from contesting elections since 2003, could be reincorporated into the political process and work within a democratic framework towards achieving that or any other goal it pleases.

Seven years in the wilderness has left ETA’s avatars somewhat more dubious about the usefulness of violence and somewhat more receptive to the idea that there is more to be gained from a seat at the table where Spain’s wealth and power is divvied up. That is why they are desperate (and the government knows they are) to get washed in the cleansing suds of democratic legitimacy in time for the May 2011 municipal and regional polls that will decide the balance of power in Spain until general elections are held the following year.

Then there is the matter of the, er,  pistol on the table. ETA has not even promised to disarm. Only to “permanently” refrain from firing the weapons that it has no intention of relinquishing. Its leaders have merely hinted they just might disarm if and when they decide that “the Basque people’s right to self-determination has been respected.”

In addition, Rubalacaba scoffed at the idea that “international observers” should be involved in verifying anything at all, establishing a moral equivalence between states that live under the rule of law and a gang of terrorist murderers.

Indeed, no changes in security alerts are contemplated at present, given that the last time ETA suckered Zapatero into “peace talks,” the terrorists decided to punish him for “not keeping his promises” by blowing up a huge parking ramp at Madrid's airport, crushing two people to death. That was in December 2006.

Just the other day, the Monday before Christmas, three hooded gunmen staged a daylight stickup near Lyon, where they made off with computer programs, machinery, and plastic blanks used to make secure credit cards and magnetic access cards. What does that tell us about ETA’s intentions?

According to Rubalcaba, it may be trying to show that operational weakness has nothing to do with its willingness to talk to the Spanish government. Or it may be something considerably more sinister than all that, and today’s announcement might be another part of it. Perhaps it will not be long until we find out.