Por Júlia Maciel – JPN .- Pedro Sánchez justifies the countries’ rapprochement with Spain’s “territorial integrity”, but a representative of the Polisario Front says that the Spanish Government “succumbed to Moroccan blackmail” and reports on the perspective of the Sahrawi people. A researcher for the African Studies Center also spoke about the state of play in the region.
“A new stage much more solid”. This is how the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, alluded to a political rapprochement between Madrid and Rabat at a press conference on March 23 in Ceuta. The Prime Minister’s speech implies that the Spanish government accepts Moroccan ideas regarding the territorial dispute in Western Sahara. Sidi Omar, representative of the Polisario Front – a movement that fights for the independence of Western Sahara – says that “the Sahrawi people feel betrayed once again by the current Spanish government” following this decision.
“I believe that all the results of these negotiations are a good result for Spain and Morocco”, said the Spanish prime minister. As a result of this strengthening of relations, Sánchez mentioned the protection of territorial integrity, as well as migratory control.
In the same week, José Manuel Albares, the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, defended the position of Moncloa before Parliament, saying that the nation “needs to stop being a spectator and speak internally about the issue of the Sahara and internationally to solve a problem that has lasted 46 years”.
Two weeks ago, Pedro Sánchez reportedly supported the Moroccan plan for autonomy for Western Sahara and considered the proposal “as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the dispute”, according to the news given by the government of Rabat. Although the Moroccan royal house stated that the declaration was sent from Spain by letter to King Mohammed VI, Madrid has not confirmed the veracity of the message.
“Our objective is to build a new relationship, based on transparency and permanent communication, mutual respect and agreements signed by both parties, as well as abstaining from any unilateral action, consistent with the importance of everything we share”, says the statement quoted by Morocco.
The declaration would then put an end to four decades of Spanish neutrality regarding the conflict between Western Sahara and Morocco, which has been going on since 1975. The European country, which is still considered the Sahara’s colonial administrative power, has defended a referendum of self-determination foreseen by the United Nations (UN), which would decide the future of the territory. Now, the decision to support the autonomy plan not only recognizes the sovereignty of the Alawite kingdom over the Sahrawi people (the autochthonous people of Western Sahara), but also represents a substantial change in Spanish policy.
In response, the representative of the Polisario Front – an independence movement created in 1973 to fight the Spanish occupation in the former Spanish Sahara – to the United Nations and coordinator of the United Nations Mission for the referendum in Western Sahara (Miurso), Sidi Omar, states that “the Sahrawi people feel betrayed once more by the current Spanish government in the same way that Spain betrayed our people in 1975 through the infamous so-called Madrid Accords whereby Spain illegally handed over Western Sahara to Mauritania and Morocco”.
“The betrayal runs much deeper as this same government keeps on declaring its support for a peaceful solution within the framework of the United Nations while announcing its support for Morocco’s expansionist proposal. The Spanish government should stop this incoherence that has seriously undermined its credibility in the eyes of not only the Sahrawi people but also most of the Spanish peoples”, highlits Sidi Omar.
The diplomat says that despite not fully understanding the Spanish government “succumbing so easily to Moroccan blackmail”, the position taken only serves to encourage Morocco to persist and consummate an “illegal occupation” in Western Sahara, to “damage” the plans to UN peace program “long-stalled”. Regarding the progress of negotiations with Rabat, Sidi Omar says that the Sahrawi people have already made many concessions over time – however Morocco “never had the political will to find a peaceful and lasting solution” and yearns for “irresolution” of the conflict. “When speaking of the UN peace process, Morocco is only interested in keeping the process going on indefinitely but without any prospect for peace”, he declares.
“For us, armed struggle has never been an end, but a means to defend ourselves and our rights. As long as the Moroccan illegal occupation of parts of our country persists, we will continue to resist the occupation by all legitimate means”, he assures. “Our people will never stop resisting Morocco’s illegal occupation and will continue their struggle by all legitimate means to exercise our inalienable and non-negotiable right to self-determination and independence”.
The researcher for the African Studies Center at the University of Porto (CEAUP), Isabel Lourenço, claims that “Sánchez’s position is completely illegal – under international law, under Spanish law itself” and goes against the speech of the Prime Minister himself and his political party, “which in its program defended the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people”.
An old history
The histories of Spain and Western Sahara intersected in 1883, when the European power occupied the Saharan territory. Ten years later, the Frente Polisario (acronym for “Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro”) was created, a political and revolutionary movement against the Hispanic occupation.
However, the focus of the movement changed in 1975, when Spain granted the administrative powers of the African country to Morocco. From then on, the Polisario Front fought Morocco in an armed conflict until 1991, when a ceasefire was decreed and a referendum was agreed with the United Nations to discuss the self-determination of Western Sahara – which never happened.
It was then, in 2007, that Morocco proposed an autonomy plan that provided for a Sahrawi government subjugated to the Moroccan government, which would control the military armies, foreign affairs, legislative bodies and religion. The Polisario Front never accepted the proposal.
Isabel Lourenço comments that “this expansive ‘madness’ and the dream of the great Morocco are driven, above all, by internal consumption to unify the people and show that they are strong” and that “Morocco’s position is autonomy or autonomy, with no room for more anything”.
The researcher pointed out that, at present, the situation of the Sahrawis is “alarming”, both inside and outside the Western Sahara. This is because violent acts are “proffered indiscriminately” against Sahrawi children, women and men, who are subjected to a condition of “social, economic and political apartheid”.
In addition, Isabel Lourenço alludes to the end of the ceasefire last year, by Morocco, as well as to the existence of a sand wall with more than three thousand kilometers in length, which not only separates the occupied territories of the freedmen, as it contributed to stop the advance of the Sahrawi population and “expand the Moroccan occupation” in the country.
“The situation in the occupied territories is very worrying. We have the case of Sultana Khaya, who spent more than five hundred days – and continues – with a siege around her house, where she lives with her sister and mother. The house was broken into several times and the two girls were raped and attacked with chemicals. Her mother has been attacked several times. They also have no electricity and water, and [the Moroccan troops] only allow the purchase of food in very small portions so that they go hungry,” says the expert.
On the Sahrawis who remain in Western Sahara and who continue to live under occupation, Sidi Omar reveals that “they are subject to constant repression by the Moroccan authorities” and that the country is today “the largest prison in the world because it is sealed off, and no international observer or media are allowed to enter the country because Morocco fears that the world would know about the atrocities it is committing”.
On the other hand, since 1975 many Sahrawi people have fled the conflict and sought refuge in Algeria, where they are to this day. The Polisario Front representative says that even with limited resources, the Sahrawi refugees can be “can pride themselves on having built a modern society that cherishes and promotes the values of social justice, democracy, tolerance, and rule of law”, referring to it as “one of the most educated societies in Africa”.
However, Isabel Lourenço considers that, despite the enormous organization present in the camps, the life of a Sahrawi refugee is a life “completely on stand-by”. “They are born looking at the sand and die looking at the sand, because they are in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the desert”, she says. In this sense, Sidi Omar recognizes that “the Sahrawi refugees are refugees not because of any natural disaster or the like, but because Morocco illegally invaded and occupied their country. They have never lost hope to return to their homeland and live in freedom and peace”.
The Western Sahara’s near future
Sidi Omar guarantees that the Sahrawis “firmly” believe that the negotiating table is “only means through which we and our northern neighbour, Morocco, could reach a peaceful, just, and durable solution to the conflict”. The policy of “brute force that Morocco has been pursuing for decades leads nowhere except to war, destruction and further tension in the region”. According to Omar, “it is time for dialogue to talk and achieve peace”. In consensus, Isabel Lourenço also states that, if there is no resolution by the United Nations Security Council, there will be an “intensification of the war”.
“Any people who are attacked will never stop defending their home. The soldiers on the other side are paid to attack, they are not defending their home. And the Sahrawi are not going to let the situation continue, because they have nothing to lose. And there is nothing worse than someone who has nothing to lose”, says the researcher.
On the other hand, Isabel Lourenço praises the strategy of non-violent resistance of the people of Western Sahara, which has lasted for more than 30 years. “This should be an example, praise should be given and the next step should be taken so that [the Sahrawis] really have their country, because they tried by all means to avoid a war. This is unique. I think it is one of the great assets of these people, in addition to unity, the love they have for peace”, she says. In this perspective, the coordinator of Minurso expresses that, “as we have demonstrated by deeds and words, we are a peaceful people and all we want is to exercise our inalienable and internationally recognized right to live in peace and freedom in our homeland”.
As for international support, Sidi Omar says that the least they expect is for Western countries to “respect the principles of international rights”. For the representative of the Polisario Front. “It is the duty of all law-abiding countries in the world not to engage in any act or in any form of assistance that may have the effect of consolidating the Moroccan illegal occupation of parts of Western Sahara”.
In support of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Algeria (a country where several Sahrawi refugee camps are located) withdrew its ambassador from Madrid and amended its constitution to allow the country to participate in military actions across the border.
Popular demonstrations took place across Spain this week, following Moncloa’s stance. About two thousand people demonstrated on Saturday in Madrid to support Western Sahara and demand its self-determination, showing support for the Sahrawis. Protests also took place in the Canary Islands capitals, Tenerife and Las Palmas, which demanded going to the polls as a legitimate resolution to the conflict.