Finally, as expected, the Spanish government of PM RodrÃguez Zapatero gave in to the blackmailing of the criminals of ETA. The jailed ETA man who went on a hunger strike has seen his sentence softened, getting out of jail and doing his time comfortably in his home.
While it is true that the government is allowed by law to exchange the jail sentence for home detention, this is meant for exceptional cases. There’s certainly nothing excepcional in this case; this prisoner’s own decision to stop eating is not an illness: it’s just blackmail.
So last week the government freed the killer, out of fear that he might have otherwise died of starvation, and that his death would have been seen as provoked by the Spanish government.
This hunger strike was a measure of pressure to get the government to release him from jail. Moreover, it would not be surprising that during the ongoing ETA-government talks, ETA would have threatened the government with new terrorist acts (like the deadly bomb last December in Madrid) if the assassin was not released from prison.
By giving in to the ex-prisoner’s demands, however, the government has fallen to the feet of a terrorist armed band. The government has not stood up before the threats from ETA. The Rule of Law has been scorned upon and depreciated. This government has chosen to yield to the terrorist’s demands rather than taking the strong position and ignoring the demands of a criminal, who chooses to defend his crimes. Compassion cannot be shown with this assassin, and yet this was the government’s excuse to grant him home detention.
It is important to recall that the 3,000 year jail sentence dictated for this ETA man was softened to 18 years of actual jail time, after which he was convicted for other crimes to 90 years. This 90 year sentence was also watered down, to some 12 years, and later to 3 years. He spent 2 of those in jail, and now the remaining year he will spend comfortably at home eating all he wants after he succeeded in forcing the government to get him out of jail.
So what is a government to do with a situation like this? They can do one of two things:
- Ignore the criminal’s unfounded demands, and enforce the jail sentence, specially because the prisoner showed no remorse for the death threats for which he’s been sentenced.
- Try to appease the criminal, by doing as he demands, and in this way avoid violent reactions from ETA and avoid stronger political pressure from ETA-supporter Batasuna (a political party declared illegal in Spain).
The consequences of (1) could lead to the prisoner’s death caused by his own starvation. This could unleash more violence and terrorism from his supporters and ETA. While this is undesirable, the government cannot use this as an excuse for not enforcing the sentence.
The consequences of the chosen path, option (2), on the other hand, are infinitely more serious: The government has given proof that it is ready to back down before people with bombs and pistols, and it will capitulate at the slightest sign of a threat. In essence, the Rule of Law is ignored, and the government simply acts based on the threats and blackmailing they are presented with. ETA is in control of the situation; the Rule of Law isn’t.
Any criminal now could feel invited to pressure and blackmail the government, because the chances of success are significant. As a matter of fact, today, March 5, 2007, there are reports of another 20 ETA imprisioned criminals who have begun hunger strikes to demand of the government having several of them released from jail.
The government is afraid to be seen on the eyes of ETA and Basque political parties as a provoker of street violence and repression on the Basque people. In trying to avoid a martyr figure emerging from a self-starved-to-death terrorist, the government doesn’t want to see they have created a hero for ETA’s supporters, who has defeated the Spanish government by taking the hard stance himself. This is how the assassin is regarded among ETA supporters (including Batasuna).
Thanks to Mr. RodrÃguez Zapatero, ETA is stronger and more confident every day. Local elections are coming up in May 2007, and ETA wants its terrorism-supporting political wings to run in them. Will Mr. RodrÃguez Zapatero allow them to enter and rule city halls in the Basque Country and Navarra? Is this where his strategy is leading? The law of political parties forbids terrorism-supporting political parties from running for office. Will Spain’s P.M. respect this law?