On 14 July 1997 Spain’s biggest ever protest took place, as two million people all over the country took to the streets to condemn the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA after it murdered Miguel Ángel Blanco Garrido, a young Partido Popular councillor from the small town of Ermua, Vizcaya.
This unprecedented demonstration of grief and anger was a turning point in the public’s attitude towards ETA, as people overcame their fears to express their horror and disgust at this latest killing.
Miguel Ángel Blanco was kidnapped by ETA on his way home from work on 10 July. He normally travelled by train and the group had been watching his movements. He was distracted by a young lady who approached him: nobody knows what she said to him, but he accompanied her outside. He was then forced into a car, taken into hiding and the group threatened to kill him unless the government agreed to transfer all ETA prisoners to jails in the Basque Country within 48 hours.
Despite the security forces’ best efforts they were unable to find where he was being held, and people in the region began to hold demonstrations calling on ETA to release him, shouting slogans such as “Not in my name!”
A candlelit overnight vigil was held in Ermua and this, together with the protests elsewhere in the country, marked what later became known as the ‘spirit of Ermua’.
Shortly after the deadline expired on 12 July the terrorists took Miguel Ángel Blanco to a piece of wasteland, shot him twice in the head and left him there. He was found, close to death, with his hands tied, and taken to hospital but died in the early hours of Sunday 13th.
This was by no means ETA’s first killing, nor would it be their last, but the cold-blooded and calculated assassination of an innocent young man caused such shock and outrage among society as a whole, including many of those who supported ETA’s campaign for independence for the Basque Country, that it has become an unforgettable part of Spain’s history.
The prime minister of the time, José María Aznar, and his predecessor Felipe González attended Miguel Ángel’s funeral, together with the Prince of Asturias, the heir to the throne, and a ten-minute silence was held all over the country as people paid their respects to the young victim.
It was not until 2006 that two ETA members were tried for the murder of Miguel Ángel Blanco. They were each sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment.