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Speech by President of the Government of Spain at event for symbolic destruction of weapons seized from terrorist groups

'Duque de Ahumada' School for Young Cadet Officers of the Guardia Civil, Valdemoro (Madrid), Thursday 4 March 2021

Dear Director of the Memorial Centre for Victims of Terrorism Foundation. Dear ministers. Dear representatives of the associations of victims of terrorism. Dear mayor, public officials, ladies and gentlemen.

On 1 October 2018, France handed over to Spain effects and documents from the terrorist gang ETA that had been obtained thanks to the joint fight by the two countries over a great many years. These documents corresponded to the most significant operations carried out by the French police in collaboration with Spain's intelligence services.

The fact of the arrival of the so-called "ETA archives" to Spain symbolised the success of the close collaboration between Spain and France in that great democratic task. And we wanted to portray that in a joint event. That handover of documents was rightly baptised the "Memoire Vivante" - the "Living Memory". This was an unprecedented operation at a European security and justice level and represented progress in police and judicial cooperation mechanisms.

France, and I wish to acknowledge this here today as well, was one of the greatest allies to the State law enforcement agencies and Spanish democracy in the decisive and resolute struggle against ETA.

Today, we have just witnessed a very symbolic event in this long fight against terrorism that was so painful for our country. We have seen, as was rightly mentioned, the destruction of 1,377 weapons: pistols, revolvers, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and shotguns. Most of these weapons were seized from the terrorist gang ETA, but 10% of them were seized from GRAPO.

Their destruction takes on great meaning for Spanish society, for Spanish democracy. The writer Edurne Portela, who has studied terrorism and violence in the Basque Country in great depth, entitled one of her books on this matter in a very eloquent and meaningful manner in my opinion, "The echo of the gunshots". This terrible echo of gunshots is what paralysed our society for decades, which sought to debate its legitimate differences with words, and not with explosions or murders. And this terrible echo of the gunshots is what we still hear in the voices of the victims who, unfortunately, will long remain the victims of that senselessness.

Many of these victims and their families, who I would also like to stress are victims, still remember the sound of the gunshots. The importance of this event also lies in a classical symbolism, I would say, which is that whoever hands over the weapons accepts defeat.

Here we once again bear witness to the defeat of ETA by Spanish democracy. The defeat of bullets by votes, as one of the main champions of this victory - Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba - said. In short, the defeat of violence by reason, as we said for many years.

Other European terrorist groups disappeared, as has been rightly mentioned, in a more blurred manner: they simply faded away or disappeared due to the efficacy of police actions in dismantling their structure. But the destruction of their arsenals has never before been taken place publicly. That is why this event is such a valuable lesson to us.

Firstly, because the destruction of the weapons seized from ETA strengthens, I stress, the idea of the defeat of the terrorist gang called for by the victims' organisations.

The past cannot be changed, but we do have the capacity and obligation to repair it, to repair the pain and restore the commitment to liberty and hope of Spanish democracy. ETA was defeated by the State law enforcement agencies, which we will always remember and emphasise, by the judiciary, the political parties, international collaboration and, above all, by the awareness of the public.

And this defeat shows, above all, the firmness of a society that wanted to live in peace and liberty.

The terrorists believed that it was possible to crush a society through fear and terror, but they did not count on the strength of public resistance, of liberty, of the desire to enjoy liberty of the whole of Spanish society, which can always overcome the worst demonstrations of terror, as we unfortunately have witnessed over these last 40 years.

This event teaches us valuable lessons, secondly, because it contributes to dignifying the memory of the victims, which is something that the Director mentioned before. Because in the wake of the disappearance of ETA we need the democratic memory of what passed. Remembrance is much more than just an act of respect, which is also clearly always necessary. Remembering them is an exercise in dignity, in humanity and in justice. It is also a moral duty and imperative due to the democratic values represented by the victims of terrorism. And it is true that there are some studies that we have seen in the media in recent days in which it has been observed that many young people, both in the Basque Country and elsewhere, are only superficially aware of the criminal history of ETA and of what this meant for Spanish society.

This reality can be explained to a large degree by the human tendency to shun painful memories and thus concentrate on the future and on hope. But we must not forget. We cannot allow the names of those people who lost their lives or who had to leave their homes to flee extortion and violence to fade away.

The weapons have just been destroyed, but the echo of the gunshots must continue to be heard, and we must convert them now, not into a representation of death, but into a representation of something must loftier, which is democratic memory. The memory does not belong to the terrorists or fanatics, but to us, to the whole of Spanish society, to the whole of Basque society, to the society that at all times defended liberty and yearned for peace.

Last November, I had the chance to meet at Moncloa Palace with the Board of Trustees of the Memorial Centre for Victims of Terrorism Foundation. And I once again wish to reiterate that the Memorial Centre is and will continue to be one of the main priorities in the field of memory for the Government of Spain.

As will the fight against any form of terrorism, and thus the drive for cooperation and police and judicial collaboration within the European framework continues to be a priority for the Government of Spain. Because, as the Director rightly said before, there are still crimes by the terrorist gang to be uncovered that were never judicially clarified, and hence there is still significant work to be done.

ETA is done away with, that much is clear. But there is still work to do to uncover events and redress them and I wish to proclaim, loud and clear, not just on behalf of the government but, I would dare to say, on behalf of the whole of Spanish society, that we will continue to defend the memory of those who were murdered, injured, kidnapped or threatened by the different terrorist groups that operated in our country - from ETA to DAESH, including the GAL, GRAPO and the organised far-right groups.

And we will do this through hard work and by strengthening the social and democratic State under the rule of law, by defending life, political plurality and the liberty that the terrorists sought unsuccessfully to take away from us.

And we will do this by also remembering, as Cristina Cuesta, the Director of the Miguel Ángel Blanco Foundation and consequently founder of the Peace Gesture said, whose father was murdered by ETA in 1980, when she said that policies to enhance memory will establish, and I quote this textually, "the truth of what happened; we will disappear but new generations, as they get on with their lives, will have the chance to find out what happened".

This is our goal, and I wish to end by thanking all those who made it possible to defeat ETA, particularly the victims of terrorism and their families, for their sacrifice, for their courage and for their example, which always inspires us all.

At the event we held in 2018, I recalled some words spoken, very emotively, by Marta Huesa, the daughter of Fernando Huesa, who was murdered by ETA, who textually said the following - words I will use to end my speech.

She said, "When I saw the news that ETA had announced the cessation of its armed activity, I broke down and cried bitterly. The image came to my mind that I could stretch out my arm back to 22 February 2000 and say to my father - take my hand, I will bring you here. Nothing will happen to you here. You are safe here".

We cannot recover the lives that were lost. We cannot recover them. Nor can we destroy the dark past as we have destroyed these weapons. But it is in our hands to fight not to lose the memory and repair the pain and honour. It is in our hands to do away with fear and continue building, because we can, and we know that the path to peace and liberty has never completely been built.

Thank you very much ministers. Thank you very much, Director. Thank you all very much.

(Transcript edited by the State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation