International Papers

Basque Case Scenario

Sunday’s election for the Basque parliament was deemed the most significant since the region gained considerable autonomy from Spain in 1978. The ballot pitted “hope vs. fear” (Barcelona’s La Vanguardia), “votes vs. bullets” (Madrid’s ABC), and “votes vs. terror” (Madrid’s El País), and presented voters with a choice between “democracy or violence” (former Spanish President Felipe González writing in Argentina’s Clarín).

The moderate nationalist Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has dominated the Basque parliament since its inception, but it has never held an absolute majority. After Euskal Herritarrok, the political wing of the terrorist separatist group ETA, pulled out of the ruling coalition last September, claiming that insufficient progress had been made toward Basque independence, the PNV was forced to call early elections. When the major Spanish political parties—the ruling Popular Party and the opposition socialists—joined forces to offer a “constitutionalist” alternative to the Basque nationalists, it seemed possible that the election would set off a major shift in the region’s politics. In fact, the results were disappointing for the constitutionalist forces: With an all-time-high turnout of 80 percent of the 1.8 million eligible voters, although EH lost half of its 14 seats, the Popular Party added just one seat to its pre-election total; PNV added six seats, but with 33, it is still short of the 38 seats needed for a majority. Assessing the results, ABC declared, “The Basque parliament is just as ungovernable as it was [before the election].” In its Sunday editorial, LaVanguardia counseled the political parties to avoid making alliances with EH to achieve a parliamentary majority: “Democracy requires that all who participate in it respect the rules of the game, among which the right to live is the most elementary. No candidate for lehendaraki [the Basque presidency] should count on their votes, either actively nor passively.”

Peace was virtually the only election issue. Since ETA called off its 14-month cease-fire in November 1999, it has killed 30 people, most recently last Sunday when a Popular Party politician was shot in the head on the streets of Zaragoza while taking his son to a soccer match. The rest of Spain is disgusted by the violence and by the refusal of some Basque nationalist politicians to condemn it. At the very end of the electoral campaign in the early hours of Saturday morning, ETA detonated a car bomb in the center of Madrid, injuring as many as 14 people. This was widely interpreted as a signal that ETA would continue its campaign of terror and intimidation whatever the election results. According to a survey reported in Argentina’s La Nación, seven out of 10 Basque residents feel afraid to openly express their political opinions, and many local politicians, journalists, academics, and business owners who do not support an independent Basque state have been threatened or forced to pay “revolution taxes” to avoid physical harm. (The Guardian reported that Spain is the only European Union country where journalists are targeted for murder—ETA killed an El Mundo reporter in May 2000, and around 100 journalists currently receive police protection against ETA death squads.) Young radicals from EH harassed several non-nationalist politicians at their polling places Sunday. In its Election Day editorial, El Correo Digital of Bilbao, the heart of the Basque country, declared:

Voting in these elections is a right, and it is also a duty, because Basque society must commit, without delay, to place itself definitively outside the game of terror, fanaticism, ethnocentrism, and the ideological xenophobia that degrades “coexistence,” subjecting it to the dark dictates of fear and cynicism.

African media woes: South Africa’s Independent reported that “[p]ressure on journalists, the banning of publications and charges that some media foment right-wing plots have raised concern that press freedom is under renewed threat across southern Africa.” In Zimbabwe, the editor of the independent Daily News was questioned by police about whether the paper had “criminally defamed” President Robert Mugabe after it reported on a U.S. lawsuit filed against him by “victims of political violence.” The Daily News claimed that there have been “en masse sackings” at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp., Zimbabwe Papers, and the Zimbabwe Information Service, which all seem “to be motivated by a desire to make the institutions submissive so they can serve the interests of the ruling party and the government ahead of next year’s Presidential election.” In Swaziland, the government banned the Guardian newspaper, which had published reports that the Swazi king had been poisoned by some of his eight wives, and the Nation magazine, which has been critical of the government. According to the Independent, the Guardian “was established by a group of media workers who lost their jobs when the authorities closed the establishment-owned Swazi Observer in February 2000 for refusing to disclose its sources to the police.” Meanwhile, in Botswana, the government effectively pulled the plug on two independent papers by withdrawing its advertising: President Festus Mogae ordered state ministries, departments, and private businesses associated with the government to stop advertising in the Guardian—Botswana’s oldest independent paper—and the Midweek Sun.

Penalty shootout: Ecuadoran soccer coach Hernán Darío Gómez was shot in the leg last week when he refused to name a former president’s son to the country’s under-20 national team. The Financial Times reported that Gómez is the third Ecuadoran soccer coach to be attacked or threatened for not including Dalo Bucaram in the squad. Dalo is the son of former President Abdalá “El Loco” Bucaram, who was declared insane and unfit for office in 1997 and exiled to Panama. Despite the attack, Gómez has committed to staying with the team: Ecuador is close to qualifying for its first World Cup, and more than 10,000 fans marched through Quito Thursday to support the coach. Besides, this isn’t anything he hasn’t seen before. In 1994, the Medellín native coached the Colombian World Cup squad that received death threats after it performed poorly. Just days after they returned home one of the players was gunned down on the streets of Medellín.