By Iker Armentia / Source: Eldiario.es / The Dawn / October 5, 2015
“The sin that Spain committed against Sahara remains a source of suffering for those who were once its rightful citizens” – Thomas Bárbulo.
The Spanish Legionnaire Larry Casenave entered the Las Dunas cinema on a Friday of October 1975. Three activists from the Polisario Front were waiting for him in the bathroom stalls. They dressed him in a turban and derraá and snuck him out of the cinema. Larry had deserted the Spanish army. For 20 days he had been hiding in a house where he spent nine to ten hours a day in a hole, without moving. When the invasion of Western Sahara was imminent, Larry was relocated in Mauritania. In Mahbes, along with another group of foreigners, he met El Uali, one of the leaders of the Polisario Front. El Uali promised he would do everything in his power to get him to return to Spain as soon as possible. He replied he would stay with the Sahrawis to help.
‘This is not your war,’ said the guerrilla.
‘I know it’s not my war as a Spaniard, but it is as a person’ said Larry.
The Legionnaire fought along with the Saharawis.
Casenave Bárbulo presents a portrait of Larry Casenave in ‘The forbidden history of Spanish Sahara’. He constitutes one of few exceptions in one of the saddest episodes in the recent history of Spain: the betrayal of the Saharawi people, of which 40 years will have passed next November.
The story is well-known. Western Sahara was the 53rd province of Spain. Like other neighboring countries, it was entitled to a process of decolonization and an independent State. However, Franco’s regime gave in to pressure from Morocco and Sahara was handed over to king Hassan II. The occupation of Sahara was followed by war until a truce was signed in 1991 with the promise of a self-determination referendum sponsored by the UN.
More than two decades have passed and the popular referendum has not been held. Part of the Saharawi people live marginalized and repressed under Moroccan occupation and the other part is in refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. Madrid Agreements signed on November 14, 1975 by Spain, Morocco and Mauritania were never validated internationally and Spain continues to have power over its former colony.
The relationship of the Spanish authorities with the Saharawi follows a constant pattern: kind words are spoken but, in the end, allegiance to Morocco governs their actions.
On November 2, 1975, King Juan Carlos, then head of State in exercise -Franco was about to kick the bucket- traveled to Laayoune and, in the officers’ casino, spoke to the military command of the colony: “Spain will fulfill its commitments. We want to protect the legitimate rights of the Sahrawi people”. According to Wikileaks, three days later, King Juan Carlos revealed Franco’s plans for the Sahara to the US, not a minor help from a power that, with the key intervention of Henry Kissinger, had given the green light to the Moroccan invasion of the Sahara.
King Juan Carlos and Hassan II cultivated a profound friendship. “Hassan II was an older brother to me” said Juan Carlos days after the death of his Moroccan colleague (incidentally, how many of Juan Carlos’ friends have had their hands stained with the blood of his people?). The legitimate rights of the Saharawi people are still awaiting the fulfillment of King Juan Carlos’ promise.
On November 14, 1976, Felipe González, secretary general of the Spanish PSOE Party, traveled to the refugee camps to support the Polisario Front: “We feel ashamed that the Government has not only made a bad settlement but a worse decolonization, delivering the people in the hands of reactionary governments like Morocco and Mauritania. Our party will be with you until the final victory”. Another promise that it would not take long to be broken.
Over time, Felipe González distanced himself from the Sahara issue and became an advocate of the Moroccan regime. “Morocco is the country with the greatest freedom I know in the Arab world, including the authorities of Western Sahara”. González forgets the people who disappeared in secret prisons, the arbitrary arrests, the unfair trials, the torture, the dead and the beaten. Gonzalez forgets the repression documented by various international organizations and journalists. Well, we know that, to Felipe González, Pinochet’s dictatorship was something like a rainy afternoon.
The Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP) has also joined the ranks of cynicism. During the years of opposition to Zapatero, they rightfully criticized the Socialist government for not condemning the violent dismantling of the protest camp that Sahrawis had erected on the outskirts of Laayoune, in the occupied territories. But years later, the same PP that accused Zapatero of giving up defending human rights in order to avoid upsetting Morocco, does the same: Rajoy’s government has denied political asylum in Spain to Hassana Aalia, an activist aged 27, sentenced to life imprisonment precisely for his role at the settlement in Laayoune. Last February, the PP imposed their absolute majority in Congress to reject the granting of asylum. Fortunately, a month later, the High Court suspended the expulsion of Hassana Aalia. The granting of his asylum continues in court. The PP can also be added to the list of traitors.
The Western Sahara is one of the clearest examples of the gap between the Spanish rulers and the citizens they represent. While they are engaged in violating promises, thousands of people across Spain have shown their solidarity with the Saharawi people during these 40 years. They have given aid to refugee camps or have welcomed children in their homes to spare them the horror of a summer with temperatures above 50 degrees in the scree where they live in Tindouf.
Ironically, what Felipe Gonzalez said in 1976 could be repeated today: “I want you to know that most of the Spanish people, the noblest, the best of the Spanish people are in solidarity with your struggle”. Indeed, Felipe, but the least noble of the Spanish people have betrayed the struggle of the Saharawi. And they still do.