It all started on September 13, 1974 at the Rolando cafeteria, on Calle del Correo in Madrid. That was the enclave decided by ETA to carry out the first indiscriminate massacre of civilians in its history, dating back to 1958. That event, moreover, was what determined the biggest split that the terrorist group would suffer, when dozens of its members became part of Political-military ETA (ETApm). This 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of its dissolution: four decades of a process with one face, the reintegration of terrorists into daily and political life, and a great cross, the fact that practically all of its 28 murders will remain untried and, on many occasions, without even investigating.
ETA maintained, as it did until so many years later, that the situation was none other than an open war against the Spanish State and they would not leave their revolutionary methods until the achievement of independence and the socialism of an enlarged Euskadi. ETApm, on the other hand, preferred that the political strategy be above the armed strategy, unlike his former colleagues, who they subordinated politics to the interests of the military ETA.
“Over time the differences became more pronounced. ETA will sponsor and then take control of Herri Batasuna, a coalition that will be prevented from participating in politics. On the other hand, ETApm also commits attacks, but agrees to act obediently to the rear of the Euskadiko Ezkerra coalition, and that is the difference that explains why one was dissolved in 1982 and the other was not”, says historian Gaizka Fernández, head of Research at the Memorial Center for Victims of Terrorism.
Thus, ETApm continued to commit murders, extortions and kidnappings, although they were theoretically linked to social struggles such as the environmental or feminist movement. “The rupture of 1974 led to many quarrels between the different militants, there were even some physical confrontations. You have to think that the two gangs fought to extort money from the same businessmencompeted for the legitimacy of the acronyms and control of the media, as happened with the aegean newspaperwhich would finally be appropriated by the military ETA environment”, opines the expert.
Prioritize politics over bullets and bombs
Media attention focused on ETAm, which was by far the deadliest terrorist organization of those who acted during the Transition, so in 1980 ETApm decided to become radicalized and undertake a campaign against the UCD, according to what was expressed by Fernández. “That really meant a crack in the relationship between the political party and the band. Euskadiko Ezkerra was already in Congressin the Basque parliament and city councils, and their cousins were assassinating members of the UCD, a party with which they had to dialogue in the institutions”, he says. Without going any further, the Tejero coup d’état on February 23, 1981 supposes the full stop for many polimilisas the members of ETApm were called, considering that their attacks posed a danger to democracy.
Before all that, his actions didn’t go unnoticed either. “Fourteen hostages, businessmen and central administration officials, were shot in one or both knees, something they copied from the Italian Red Brigades and the Irish IRA,” the historian illustrates. At that time, moreover, the conjunction between ETApm and Euskadiko Ezkerra was so notorious that he always believed problems for the political party in order to reach an agreement with the democratic parties of the left, such as the PCE or the PSOE.
More murders to return to military ETA
It is now 40 years since ETApm finally decided to dissolve itself upon seeing that its claims were being fulfilled, such as the Basque Statute of Autonomy. “Thanks to the Ministry of the Interior of Juan Jose Roson and Mario Onaindia’s Euskadiko Ezkerra, between 250 and 300 ETApm members return home, with a covert amnesty. They are not judged nor are they required to repent, but there is no moral reflection either,” explains Fernández. That changed over time, since many polimilis thought about their past, they even became part of pacifist movements in Euskadi. According to the historian, “when they returned home, the military ETA ordered their cars to be burned and threatened them, even Egin published their names so that the nationalist left would harass them.” And all for what that reinsertionwhich had already been shown to be possible, would not tempt those who continued to wield weapons.
But not all accepted the pact. A part of ETApm, known as the eighths, broke the truce in 1982 and committed attacks again. However, police action was crushing this group, which soon entered into crisis. About twenty eighths, including Arnaldo Otegiapplied to join the military ETA, which imposed certain conditions on them: seven attacks and publicly regret his past. The rest of the terrorists assassinated Pharmacy Captain Alberto Martín Barrios. His last command fell in March 1985.
Families and mourning in the face of oblivion
María Jiménez has investigated terrorism with special attention to the victims. This professor at the University of Navarra knows well that “forgetting” is the word that best defines families and relatives of the 28 fatalities of ETApm. “It is said that it was a successful ending, that they reinserted into society, but that had a very expensive price,” in his own words. He refers to the fact that none of the murders were prosecuted while the investigation continued. doubt whether any of the perpetrators occupied the ranks of the Socialist Party of Euskadi, formation with which Euskadiko Ezkerra converged in 1993.
Only the identity of the people who in 1982 kidnapped for ten days the Bilbao dentist Luis Manuel Allende, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six months later. He was sentenced to two polimilis for kidnapping. Later, in 1988, a court determined that the cancer was a consequence of that. “Of the 27 remaining dead, there is not even a conviction,” Jiménez points out.
The end of terrorism against the right to justice
This teacher emphasizes that some of these terrorists were amnestied in 1977, in other cases the cause is filed directly and, there is even one of them in which there is not even a summary. “It’s expunged, it’s been destroyed, so a family was never guaranteed a minimal investigation“, he comments. Among those 28 murdered people, profiles of all kinds: national police, civil guards, but also civilians, as happened in the triple attack that ETApm carried out in Madrid in 1979in which students and housewives perished at the Atocha and Chamartín stations, and at the Barajas airport. Heroes of the retreat. The dissolution of political-military ETA (Tecnos, 2022), a monograph in which the consulted authors participate, establishes that that year was the bloodiest for the gang with eight murders in total.
The publication also contains ETApm murders by region: 10 in Guipúzcoa, 7 in Madrid, 5 in Vizcaya, 3 in Álava, 2 in France and 1 in Barcelona. “Most of them belonged to a middle or lower middle social class, where there was not enough training for the family to participate in the judicial process or claim their rights“, emphasizes Jiménez. No one has ever explained to them what was done with their perpetrators, and that is that a series of political decisions considered strategic were made so that ETApm would disappear, but also victims were neglected.
“The price to pay was the highest of all: that lose their right to justicea fundamental right that they had and that no one even explained to them because no one was willing to assume that responsibility”, develops the professor at the University of Navarra. In total, ETApm left 62 orphans with their terrorist actionsin which 13 were carried out with firearms, 7 with kidnapping and a firearm, another 7 with a bomb and one more due to an illness that occurred after the kidnapping, as mentioned above.
The current PSE-EE with reminiscences of ETApm
Sara Hidalgo is another historian, a professor at the University of the Basque Country, and has analyzed the legacy of ETApm and Euskadiko Ezkerra. “What was decisive was the campaign against UCD. Since then, a strong process of abandoning violence began,” he begins his explanation. From the point of view of this expert, this is the most important legacy they have left: to demonstrate that it has been possible to be on the side of terrorism and walk towards that of politics. Although he is not unaware of the high price paid by the victims of ETApm and calls his state “completely abandoned”.
This university professor comments on the long journey that some ETApm militants made over time. After joining the ranks of Euskadiko Ezkerra, this formation joined with the Basque section of the PSOE to form the current PSE-EE. “Of course, at that time there are councilors in towns that had been active in ETApm who find themselves with escort, threatened and, even, some of them get to live in their flesh the bullets of the military ETA that was still active, “adds Hidalgo.
Despite this, the transformation of terrorists goes through the collective reflection and asking for forgiveness at the individual level for having been part of the organization. This is how Hidalgo herself explains it: “I have interviewed many PSE militants and they all start with the same thing, that they have militated in ETApm and apologize for itand those people were the ones who were in the very first line in Gesto por la paz, for example”.
The still alive ETA saw them as traitors who perhaps should be eliminated. They were, without going any further, a reflection of what he did not want to be around, and that the military ETA was offered the same pact as the polimilis, but they rejected it. “There were situations in which people from the same town who had been a member of the original ETA received threats from a former colleague or passed on information so that that specific person could be assassinated,” says the Euskadiko Ezkerra specialist.