…. is about to fall on Zapatero, friend of Castro and putative negotiator with ETA.
Last spring, Zapatero and his Socialist party reaped a political benefit from the horrendous Madrid bomb explosions and from the subsequent fumbling by Aznar’s government.
Interpreting the bombs as being nothing but response to Spain’s participation in the coalition of the willing in Iraq, Zapatero campaigned on a withdrawalist policy and won. He had said a year before that, in response to a large demonstration against the Iraqi war that the people must be listened to.
Of course, things never turn out quite how one expects them to. First of all, it is clear that the Al-Qaeda cells in Spain have been there for some years, predating 9/11, never mind the Iraqi war. So, the Spanish police and intelligence services have been busy building up various structures to fight the terrorist menace.
Secondly, the report into the bombing itself and surrounding circumstances has been shelved several times and there have been various political rows about it.
But, most of all, there is ETA. Though they were not responsible for last year’s Madrid bombs, they have not gone away. Until now, the Spanish governments, supported by the majority of the population, including the majority of the Basque population, have refused to negotiate with the terrorists, thus distinguishing themselves from the far more craven behaviour of the British governments.
Certain reforms that would satisfy the democratic Basque nationalists have been put through and, just as with the IRA, there are indications that, although ETA has not stopped its bombings and other attacks, militarily it has been growing weaker.
Both under Aznar and under Zapatero the security forces have managed to arrest many leading members. So, with consummate political skill, Zapatero has chosen this moment, soon after several explosions in the Basque country, to suggest that his government may well start talking to the terrorists.
A huge demonstration that consisted of Spaniards and Basques came out against such a suggestion, waving the familiar slogans: “No negotiations in my name”. There were close to a million people and, unlike in the famous demonstration in London, all or almost all were citizens of Spain.
The big question is will Zapatero listen to the people when they are protesting about something so close to home?
Will he accept the arguments that unless ETA disarms, there is no point even in talking to them? Will he look at the mess of Northern Ireland, where “negotiations” without any commitments from the IRA/Sinn Fein have brought about the expected results?
Or will Prime Minister Zapatero show that for him terrorism is seamless – and he is ready to surrender to it, wherever it may happen to be?