Although October 20, 2011 will go down in history as the day ETA permanently agreed to stop its terrorist attacks, there have been many milestones along the way since the Transition that helped lead to this ceasefire. On January 12, 1988, 25 years ago, the so-called Ajuria Enea Pact was signed. It was the time when the "peace has no political cost" principle was instilled by the parties. Yet the agreement also caused deeps rifts between Basque nationalists and non-nationalists, but also paved the way to delegitimize ETA and its supporters.
Before ETA's ceasefire declaration, then-Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba called the Ajuria Enea Pact "ETA's political defeat." It was the first time that all the Basque democratic parties, including a lehendakari (regional premier), José Antonio Ardanza, came together to sign such a broad and affirmative statement against the terrorists. Besides Ardanza, also signing the pact were Txiki Benegas, on behalf of the Basque Socialist Party (PSE), the left-nationalist EE's Kepa Aulestia and the late Julen Guimon, of the Popular Coalition.
ETA has acknowledged that this agreement inflicted great political damage on its group.
Up until 1988, ETA had killed 600 people, and the fight against terrorism was essentially a criminal matter being dealt with by a Spanish state that had little social or international support. Nationalist parties and non-nationalists were divided because the former believed that ETA violence was the consequence of a "Basque political conflict" that could not be resolved until independence was recognized, explains Ramón Jáuregui, the government delegate in the Basque Country from 1982 to 1987.
Those were the gunfire years, when there was a misguided counter-terrorism focus"
The most intense moments occurred in early 1981. In the space of a few weeks, ETA kidnapped and killed an engineer at the Lemóniz nuclear plant, a barbaric act that mobilized antiterrorist forces and led to the killing in police custody of ETA member Joseba Arregui. This in turn set off a sharp pro-terrorist response in streets across the region. Batasuna lawmakers interrupted a speech by King Juan Carlos at the Gernika town council hall some days later. Then came the February 23, 1981 coup attempt by Civil Guard Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero; it occurred after a year with 92 killings by ETA.
"These were the gunfire years, when there was a misguided counterterrorism focus that fueled a diabolical spiral of repression, including unlawful police action, and by the nationalists, who opposed those police measures, drumming up support among many in France," recalls Jáuregui. The June 1987 Hipercor supermarket bombing in Barcelona, the largest in ETA history that claimed 21 lives, caused such outrage that then-Prime Minister Felipe González commissioned Txiki Benegas, the PSE secretary general, to sound out other parties in the search for a common bond against ETA. On November 5, 1987 he won the support of all the groups in Congress, including the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV): it was called the Pact of Madrid.
But that pact served little if the parties in Euskadi did not subscribe to it. Again, new negotiations were started, this time at the regional level, and the Ajuria Enea Pact was conceived.
In 1989 talks were held in Algiers between the Spanish government and ETA. But the intransigence of the Basque terrorists helped opened the eyes of France and drummed up strong cooperation from French authorities against terrorism, which continues today.