Below is a response to an article published on 29th January in Murcia’s La Verdad newspaper. It was sent to the newspaper, but they did not publish it.
The Polisario Front was born as a consequence of Francoist Spain’s rejection of a peaceful and negotiated solution, in addition to ferocious and myopic repression.
In a recent article published in the newspaper La Verdad (“Y aquí todos tan tranquilos” (“It’s all quiet over here”, in Spanish), 29/01/2021), the author stated (verbatim) that “the fate of the Sahrawis leaves me feeling unperturbed, and it is the consequence of the myopic politics that its independence leaders suffered from in the ‘70s, believing that the founding of a republic on Africa’s Atlantic coast, sponsored by the Soviet Union and Algeria, would be permitted at the height of the Cold War”. The author went on to say, “Today, their descendants pay the price for harassing the metropolitan authorities instead of biding their time for a decolonisation process that is peaceful and prosperous for both sides”.
*With respect to the fact that the fate of the Sahrawi people leaves the author of the article feeling unperturbed – just like Spain’s leaders, along with others lacking in solidarity or who are simply unaware of the Sahrawi question – it is obvious that they are well within their rights to hold that opinion, but such an expression leaves a lot to be desired and reveals a considerable lack of knowledge on their part, which I will explain herein.
Also, in terms of the author’s comments about the “myopic politics” of the Sahrawi leaders and their purported responsibility for the extremely tough situation faced by “their descendants” today, it is essential to point out a few things.
Sahrawi Quixote, watercolour by Fadel Khalifa
Firstly, it should be made expressly clear that Western Sahara is a question of decolonisation, and a delayed decolonialisation at that, rather than one of “secession”, as claimed by Morocco. Since 1963, Western Sahara has had its place on the UN’s list as the largest and most populous non-self-governing territory (in other words, awaiting decolonisation), as well as the only one of its kind in Africa. In 1991, MINURSO was created (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO for its initials in Spanish), for the sole purpose of organising a self-determination referendum.
Another reason why it is a question of delayed decolonisation is because the majority of colonial countries and territories in Africa gained independence in the ‘60s. As mentioned above, this makes Western Sahara the only colony awaiting decolonisation on the African continent.
In fact, the Portuguese colonies (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde) were the last ones to gain independence from the Portuguese metropolis; just as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres indicated, the fight for independence of these colonies was the starting point for the “Carnation Revolution” in Portugal that ended the dictatorship of Marcelo Caetano in 1974, something which the Spain was unable to do, or did not know how, to the Francoist dictatorship.
The ignorance of the Spanish people about the question of Western Sahara (formerly “Spanish” Sahara) was overwhelming for many years. This was due to the censorship imposed on the issue by the dictatorship. The same is happening now – this time with democratic governments – with the files and documentation pertaining to Spain’s erstwhile 53rd province.
Not only did Spain not, for many years, worry about providing education for the Sahrawi population and training its leaders for future independence; contrary to the demands of decolonialisation issued by the UN, Spain attempted to annex the colony as “Province 53” (similar to what France did with Algeria).
Long before the conditions for it were present and before the Polisario Front emerged, the most forward-thinking and educated leaders of the Sahrawi people offered a pathway, a programme and the preparation for an orderly exit that was both consensual and long term and in which the future country would be a loyal and principal ally of Spain (Emboirik Ahmed Omar, “El movimiento nacionalista saharaui” [“The Sahrawi nationalist movement”, in Spanish]).
The response of Francoist Spain was the Zemla massacre on 17th June 1970, the assassination of the Sahrawi leader Bassiri, an enormous repression of the populac,, and the persecution and disruption of a Sahrawi nationalist movement that aspired towards a peaceful transition to independence. With this, Spain lost the sincere trust and friendship of the Sahrawi people, as well as an excellent and unique opportunity for a dignified and righteous exit for the colony. (Morocco would act in a similar manner in the future, with the brutal dismantling of the “Camp of Dignity” in Gdeim Izik.)
The Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro) was born in 1973 as a consequence of this rejection of a peaceful and negotiated solution, as well as a ferocious and myopic repression. The only option left for the Sahrawi nation – just as with Morocco today – was the path of armed resistance, which is ultimately endorsed by international law, as was recently demonstrated by Juan Soroeta Liceras, professor of international law.
Therefore, it was none other than the Spanish government of the dictatorship that was myopic, irresponsible and lacking in solidarity, keeping the Spanish people of the peninsula, the islands and those in “Province 53” in a state of ignorance.
The last government of the Francoist dictatorship only belatedly reacted – extremely ineffectively when the Moroccan invasion was already taking place – submitting to the twisted Alawite manipulations, to pressure from France and the United States, to the betrayal of Juan Carlos of Bourbon and rigging the illegal and illegitimate Madrid Accords, through which it delivered the territory and its people to the reactionary regimes – the words of Felipe González – of Morocco and Mauritius (Jacob Mundy, “How the U.S. and Morocco seized the Spanish Sahara”).
Those responsible for the situation –in the refugee camps of Tinduf, in the diaspora and in the Western regions Sahara occupied by Morocco – as well as for the war against the invading power that the Sahrawi people are living through today, are not the independentist Sahrawis, as claimed by the author of article cited above; rather, they are Morocco, Spain, the United States and France.
A large part of the Sahrawi nation had to flee from Moroccan barbarism, crossing the desert under napalm and white phosphorous bombing campaigns in addition to brutal repression from the Makhzen in cities, villages and in the middle of the desert.
Loyal to the principles of their own fight for independence, Algeria – not Spain – showed solidarity in receiving Sahrawi refugees, providing them with shelter inside its borders, where the refugees continue to suffer to this day as they wait until they are able to return to the land that was stolen from them. Spain (its rulers) justifies itself by sending a few bags of lentils to the refugee camps in Tinduf, as if this were all the “help” that the Sahrawi people needed.
The responsibility of Spain and the United Nations in this tragedy (E. Jaén and I. Lourenço, “Suspiros de ida y vuelta”, in Spanish) should make the author of the article cited above reflect on their lack of interest and indifference towards the fortunes of the Sahrawi nation – the author’s former compatriots – and their laying of the blame upon the Sahrawi leaders.
Nearly half a century since the last government of the Francoist dictatorship abandoned “Spanish” Sahara and turned a blind eye to its international obligations, there is still not a single street, square, monument, school, university or institute in Spain that remembers Spain’s brothers and sisters in the Sahrawi nation, its heroic martyrs, its most important figures (such as Bassiri, El Uali, Aminatu Haidar, Mohamed Abdelaziz, Ahmed Bujari, Mariem Hassan, etc.), its historical deeds, (such as Gdeim Izik, Zemla, El Guerguerat, etc.), its places or its cities. Spain’s immense debt remains unpaid. This should never be forgotten.