Created in 1959 at the height of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, ETA waged more then four decades of killings and kidnappings in its fight for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France, leaving at least 829 dead.
“ETA has decided to declare its historical cycle and functions terminated, putting an end to its journey,” the group said in a letter published yesterday (May 2) by Spanish online newspaper El Diario.
“ETA has completely dissolved all of its structures and declared an end to its political initiative.”
Dated April 16, the letter was addressed to various groups and figures involved in recent peace efforts, including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, a Basque regional government representative said.
He expected ETA to make a further filmed declaration of its disbandment today (May 3), before a peace conference in southwest France on May 4.
Weakened in recent years by the arrests of its leaders in France, ETA announced a permanent ceasefire in 2011 and began formally surrendering its arms last year.
Some of its killings were especially traumatic for Spaniards, like that of Miguel Angel Blanco, a 29-year-old conservative councillor who was kidnapped in 1997, which marked a turning point in the fight against ETA.
After being held for 48-hours, he was shot twice in the back of the head.
Shouting “murderers”, hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Spain and the movement “Basta ya”, or “That’s Enough”, was born.
Basques yesterday welcomed news of ETA’s dissolution.
“It’s great news,” said Miguel, a 51-year-old butcher in San Sebastian, the seaside resort worst hit by ETA.
“We suffered a lot from terrorism for many years, and without reason.”
As that page of history closes, though, the delicate balancing act of healing and remembering takes over.
While an overwhelming majority of Basques welcome the end of violence, many still want independence, with separatist coalition EH Bildu the second largest grouping in the regional parliament.
“It’s the end of the armed struggle, but it’s about continuing the same fight through different means,” says Josian, who works for a gas company, on the rainy streets of seaside resort San Sebastian.
With more and more ETA prisoners released from jail, nationalists say reintegration into society is a necessary step towards lasting peace and reconciliation.
They argue that those still in jail should be transferred to prisons closer to home, rather than kept hundreds of kilometres away.
Some 300 ETA members are imprisoned in Spain, France and Portugal and up to 100 are still on the run, according to Forum Social, a group close to prisoners’ families.
But Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said yesterday that “they will not obtain a thing for making a declaration they call a dissolution”.
Many ETA victims or relatives say the separatist group should first and foremost condemn their history of violence and shed light on more than 350 unsolved crimes.
“This is not the end of ETA we wanted,” Consuelo Ordonez, head of the Covite victims’ association, said yesterday at a gathering in San Sebastian.
A partial apology by the separatist group last month, in which it acknowledged the harm done and apologised to some of its victims – but not to those it considered legitimate such as police – has left a sour after-taste.
There is also increasing concern in the region over how to remember the decades of violence.
Critics charge that Basque pro-independence parties like Sortu, which include among its ranks people once part of or linked to ETA, are trying to impose their own version of events.
Separatists argue that Basques have been repressed for decades, even centuries, by Spain and France.
That came to a head under Franco who forbade the use of the Basque language in public – cue ETA and its struggle against authority, which so many years later has finally come to an end.