Sue Burke (mount_oregano) wrote,
Sue Burke

The end of terror

Some people in Spain wept with joy and many said freedom had at last arrived: on October 20, the same day that Gadaffi was killed, Spain's Basque terrorists declared a "definitive end to its armed activity." The group called ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or "Basque Homeland and Freedom") had been fighting for independence for 43 years and had killed 829 people — 58 since I moved to Spain in 1999.

I have learned lessons I never wanted to know, such as how to distinguish the sound of a bomb from thunder or fireworks. Bombs detonate at ground level, so the characteristic echo of aerial explosions is missing.

I learned to keep an eye out for suspicious parcels. We all did. One day I left my neighborhood newspaper shop to see police examining the underside of a van with mirrors, looking for a bomb. I hurried past as fast as I could without seeming afraid. Fear was a terrorist weapon I could try to fend off.

I learned how a terrorist organization like that sustains itself: extortion. Businesses in Basque Country were subject to a "revolutionary tax," and from time to time a business that didn't pay would be burned down or its owner would be shot.

But the death toll hardly encompasses the terror, since the killings were sporadic but the conflict was constant.

ETA might try to kill but fail — and yet do a lot of harm. A car bomb in a parking lot of the University of Navarra on October 30, 2008, injured 21 people, destroyed 20 cars and set fire to the main building on campus. And a reporter at blast site at dawn the next day heard no birds, though the area had plenty of trees and was usually was filled with song. But the birds had all been killed by the explosive shock wave or had fled in terror.

A car bomb at 4 a.m. on July 29, 2009, destroyed the facade of this Guardia Civil apartment building in Burgos. Miraculously, only 64 people were injured and none were killed. (Photo by EFE.)

One morning, my usual radio news announcer reported that he had received a letter bomb the day before: news media were targeted.

From time to time, organized mobs in Basque Country would suddenly attack specific offices or homes, or destroy buses or community centers. Many public officials, including small-town aldermen, had bodyguards.

Or the news might carry reports that the police had discovered yet another cache of arms or explosives, or had arrested more members and leaders of ETA — 400 arrests in the last eight years. In the end, dogged police work left the terrorists' organization so debilitated that it had no choice but to declare an end to armed struggle, though its spokesmen said "it did its job" and produced a "harvest."

Were we terrified? Here in Madrid, where politicians and ordinary citizens alike were targets, the mayor — every mayor — advised: "Go about your daily life with no changes, as if you were not afraid." But the real emotion was anger. Marches and demonstrations against ETA drew huge crowds.

Most people still can't believe it's over. The terrorists wanted an independent Basque Nation because they believed themselves racially distinct and superior to other Spaniards. They still believe that, and they could resume their bloody work at any time.

The peace here in Spain remains uneasy.

— Sue Burke

Free speech for Russia! ETA tried to quash dissent, too.

Cross-posted from my professional website:
Tags: personal, spanish, website

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