Spain has rejected outright the peace offering of a longtime violent separatist group, the ETA: Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or Basque Homeland and Freedom, which has been operating in the region between France and Spain for the past forty years, causing over eight hundred deaths. This past weekend, ETA representatives offered to stop their deadly campaign and confirmed "its commitment to finding a democratic solution to the conflict" in an official group video statement. The response they got from the Spanish government was unthinkingly cold, putting peace prospects in continued jeopardy.
"I think the word [ceasefire] insufficient reflects quite well the position not (just) of the government but of all the democratic parties," Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told Spain's state-run TVE television station on Monday in rejecting the offer. He stressed that the group was weaker than ever and his government would continue to pursue its members. What he didn't stress is that when people are weak and desperate, rare opportunities for lasting peace arise, but also last attempts to cause as much damage as possible in a hopeless cause not of their own doing.
In a video handed to the BBC and broadcast on Sunday, three hooded Eta fighters are shown sitting behind a desk with the ETA flag pinned up behind them. One reads out a statement defending Eta's campaign of violence, but towards the end says the group now wants to achieve its aims by peaceful means. True, this is an awkward way to make a peace offering, especially considering that the past two from the ETA did not stop its member's use of violence. But anyone who thinks this is not better than what has been happening for decades either wants more violence or is hopelessly stupid.
Mr Rubalcaba said the word ceasefire was now "a dead concept," claiming that his government doesn't deal with terrorists, exactly what the Turkish government said in recently rejecting the peace offerings of Kurdish separatist after three deadly decades. Other than surrender, an unlikely event given the histories involved, a ceasefire is the necessary first step towards complete disarmament for any separatist group. Rejecting a ceasefire outright, then, is also the first step in ensuring that peace is indefinitely postponed.