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Bodyguard-free, ex ETA target enjoys new life

20 october 2012, 11:14
0
Portraits of ETA prisoners and their logo. ©REUTERS
Portraits of ETA prisoners and their logo. ©REUTERS
For 11 years, town councillor Joseba Markaida lived with a bodyguard, for fear of Basque separatists who hurled petrol bombs at his home and poisoned his dog, AFP reports.

Now, with Spain's Basque Country on Sunday holding its first elections since the ETA movement ended its armed campaign, the Socialist politician says his life -- and that of the region -- is different.

He has let the bodyguard go and can walk into a bar alone, without people avoiding him.

"Having to live with bodyguards deprived me of many freedoms, with my friends, my wife and family," said Markaida, 58, who suffered intimidation after becoming a councillor in his native town of Getxo in 2000.

"Now we live a normal life," he told AFP. "I can live the life I want, with my dogs, with my family," he added, his blue eyes sparkling.

"I don't have to watch myself all the time because of having escorts with me who aren't family, who are observing me at every moment."

ETA's last deadly attack was on July 20, 2009, when it killed two Spanish policemen in Palma de Mallorca on the Balearic Islands.

After a four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent Basque homeland, during which it was blamed for the deaths of 829 people, it announced a definitive end to its armed activity on October 20 last year.

Since that gesture, Markaida, who is president of Zaitu, an association grouping victims of ETA intimidation, says life is different for former targets.

"We are surprised that so much has changed in so little time. We did not think it would," he said, arriving in the group's office in Bilbao after officiating at a wedding in Berango, the town where he now holds office.

Markaida gave up his bodyguard voluntarily, unlike others, including judges, who have been obliged to do so against their will due to budget cuts imposed in the recession.

He said the end of attacks by ETA may not change much for many in the Basque Country, who have lived "trying not to see a conflict", but would for a minority who acted for ETA and an estimated 60,000 who received threats.

The change affects "a radical five percent of this society, who in the name of the supposed rights of a people violated individual rights, sometimes with very violent crimes, and another five percent, we who knew we were targets."

Despite the years of intimidation, Markaida did not flee the Basque Country as others did.

"I had to lead by example," he said. Now he feels he is reaping the fruits from the end of violence in the region, which spans parts of northern Spain and southern France.

"We are doing well. The people here now have a great opportunity," he said, ahead of Sunday's vote in which a new left-wing pro-independence coalition, EH Bildu, is expected to perform strongly.

"After 50 years of disagreement and extreme situations, they are taking the path of dialogue. The democratic path," he said.

"The circumstances have really changed. We don't know if it is just temporary ahead of the elections, but since last year, after three years without bloodshed, we are convinced that this time, fortunately, it is for real."

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