The winds of peace blowing in Northern Ireland have moved south to the Basques in Spain. Early last month, the ETA, the Basque terrorist organization best known for blowing up people, cars and buildings, joined with 23 other Basque political parties and unions to sign an agreement looking toward a political settlement of the separatists' conflict with the government of Spain.
Borrowing from the peace model of Northern Ireland and assisted by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, the main Basque nationalist political groups promised to seek a nonviolent and democratic solution to the struggle over political power in northern Spain's Basque provinces, a century-old conflict exacerbated under the long reign of dictator Francisco Franco.
A few days after the declaration for peace, the ETA announced a truce. The initial reaction of Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, then on a visit to Peru, was cautious. On his return to Madrid, Aznar plunged into consultations with his own party and the main opposition party. The influential daily El Pais encouraged Aznar to embrace the opportunity.
In response, and sensibly, the prime minister demanded of the ETA a public announcement that it has unequivocally rejected the use of violence and will embrace democratic principles even if the results of Sunday's municipal elections in the Basque region do not favor the group.
In the meantime, Aznar has issued a new policy regarding political prisoners that, in his words, is "consensual, flexible, dynamic and . . . moves alongside the peace process." Four Basque prisoners have already been transferred from distant lockups to prisons near their homes. With political courage on all sides, things are headed in the right direction.