Western Sahara Continues to be Under Colonial Rule

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By: Ramón Pedregal Casanova / Source: Mundo Obrero / The Dawn News / February 5, 2018

Dr. Jila Buhali Bad. Photo Credit: Mundo Obrero

Since 1975, the Moroccan monarchy invades Sahara after negotiating with the government and the monarchy of Spain to get them to sell this land. The Sahrawi people are still paying the price of this betrayal. It is a story of ignominy. The processes of liberation of colonized people began much earlier, in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Sahara could never join this liberated world, and some, like the Sahrawi people, keep fighting.

Fernando Magán and I met with Dr. Jila Buhali Bad, representative of the Polisario Front in Spain, to speak about the Saharawi question.

-Could you talk about the history of Western Sahara before 1975 [TN: the year in which Spain handed over command of the nation’s territory to Morocco]?

After many attempts of colonization, both from England and from Portugal, Western Sahara became a colony of Spain from 1884 to 1975 as a result of the distribution of land made in the famous Berlin Conference. Throughout the years, the Sahrawi people were notorious for their struggle for liberation and their defense of the land. Western Sahara ceased to be a colony in 1975, although the peaceful movement for liberation had begun in the 60s. In 1966, Morocco attempted to seize control of the land, although Western Sahara was still the 54th province of the Spanish State. The Decolonization Committee ruled in 1966 that Sahara is not a part of Morocco and has never had any bond with it. That’s what the English records said, and they also established the places that the King of Morocco ruled.

In 1970, the peaceful movement of resistance that had begun in the 60s was crushed after the Semle revolt. Semle was a marginalized Sahrawi neighborhood that rose against the oppression and became the seed of the Polisario Front. On June 17, 1975, the entire population protested en masse, after a series of disagreements with the Spanish authorities. We wanted to solve the decolonization problem peacefully (we sent a letter in which we called the Spanish authority to dialogue) but the response was crushing, with deaths, imprisonments, banishments and disapparitions.

The goal was to completely destroy the movement and silence our voices. The Sahrawi population went on, reorganized with a new leadership, and on May 10, 1973, the Polisario Front was formed. As peaceful resistance had not been heard of for years, on May 20 the Front carried out the first military operation against Spanish posts in the Kasik locality and in the Hanc locality.

-How did the United Nations respond?

This was the beginning of a national liberation war, perhaps one of the last ones, to achieve independence or the handing over of the land so that the United Nations could give it to the people to exercise self-determination. The process of independence was reaching its height in Africa, and the Sahrawi were part of this process. In 1975, the United Nations sent a delegation of three people to visit the territory: one from Cuba, one from Ivory Coast, and a third one. Marta Jiménez, from Cuba, played a decisive role. Their report was very clear, they left record that the only political force they had seen on the ground was Polisario and that every person was in favor of independence, which was true.

-How did the government of the kingdom of Spain respond?

Spain tried to create a parallel party, which was unsuccessful, and the Sahrawi people, who they thought would support them, rebelled against them and burned their offices. In 1975, the Polisario Front had everything it needed to negotiate with the metropoli. And when they were about to achieve independence, they were betrayed: instead of complying with the UN ruling and letting the people determine their destiny, Spain, who adamantly proclaimed it would do what the Sahrawi wanted, sold the land to Morocco and Mauritania.

Hassan II, King of Morocco, staged a peaceful march to convince the general public of the legitimacy of this occupation. It was called the Green March, but it was very dark. International media bought this PR move, and so the sale was completed. Spain guarantees to Morocco that there will be no resistance to the occupation on November 9. The three-party agreement was signed on November 14. We, the Sahrawi, remember the awful noise at night, as the Moroccan troops entered, and the deadly silence of terror the following day.

Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara in 1975. They also invited Algeria and promised a piece of the cake, but Algeria made it clear that it stood for the rights of the people. Algeria has proven throughout history that it defends the self-determination of the people and therefore it doesn’t want a parcel of land that belongs to others. They cooperate and coexist with us.

On February 27, the last Spanish soldier withdrew, and the Sahrawi people proclaimed the Democratic Sahrawi Republic because that was the day we ceased to be a Spanish colony.

-What was the political situation that led the Spanish government to make that sale?

It coincided with a political vacuum in Spain, just after Franco died and his dictatorship crumbled. But the progressive governments that came after maintained the policy of denial of that historical debt and the lack of accountability or contribution to the solution of the conflict.

-Was Morocco the only one that took advantage of that situation?

Mauritania had also invaded the south of our country. Mauritania had been handed over half of our territory and a percentage of the phosphates and fishing exploitation rights that to the eyes of the UN belong to the Spanish nation, because it still is the nation that administers the territory on paper. But our relationship with Mauritania changed. On August 5, 1979, we signed peace with this country and they withdrew from our territory and acknowledged the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and now we have a good relationship with Mauritania.

-Considering the UN report and Mauritania’s acknowledgement of Western Sahara as a sovereign nation, what steps did Morocco take?

Morocco tried to invade the rest of the territory but Sahrawi resistance made that impossible, so the invaders decided to build, with the help of the big powers, a wall that still divides our territory—or, more accurately, seven walls that make a big one. Those walls were built to protect the areas that they could exploit for profit. At first, they called it the Huti triangle, and they fenced off the phosphate fields and uranium mines. In time, they discovered there are more exploitable areas, some of which are still in the exploration phase, and they still continue to add to that great wall with electrical fences, minefields, walls of sand, and radars, while Polisario carries on with the strategy of the attrition war, which prevents them from moving further.

-France has big interests in the entire area, has this been an obstacle to a diplomatic solution? I ask this because I see parallels between the case of Western Sahara and the case of Palestine in the United Nations, where there’s always a handful of governments that block a solution: the United States, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia. It seems as though these countries completely disregard international law, and they can be found behind most international conflicts, however, they always point at the rest as the enemies of the world.

That’s the reality we face every day, it is exactly like that. Sahara is not an isolated case, Palestine is also in the same position, and many other countries too, in Latin America, in Africa… The single country that really stands in the way of peace, stability and independence of Sahara is France. Paradoxically, France was the land of the first revolution, which propagated the principles of basic rights for every human being and the sovereignty over the land. However, it is France who currently maintains a neo-colonial policy throughout Africa through the International Organisation of La Francophonie.

There’s a principle that neo-colonialists cannot bury: it is up to the African or Latin American or European or Asian peoples to decide what they want on their land. It is their right to decide, and others might disagree, but they cannot impose their will. Humanity agreed on the democratic process, and the new consensus is to respect the will of the majority, so I say let’s go to the urns and I’ll accept whatever they say.

-What is France’s policy for the area?

France thinks this will be forgotten in time, and that this conflict can be silenced. They haven’t learned from history. The Sahrawi people are not the only ones, there are 17 non-autonomous territories under the United Nations, and the only one where there isn’t an organism that elaborates constant reports is Sahara. Why? Because France has decided it must be so, because they want the Francophonie to rule, and Morocco is France’s representative in Northern Africa. So France trades with our freedom. Their discourse on democracy, equality, and acceptance of migration, is contrary to reality—not just regarding Sahara, but also, for example, the refugee camp in Southern France: that is their policy.

-Doesn’t Europe respond?

The European continent as a whole doesn’t acknowledge the real world surrounding us. It doesn’t make way for the coexistence of different cultures, of different thoughts, and of different spaces. For example: the Syrian case is not a refugee wave, the underlying problem is the destabilization of an entire nation (Syria), and this is the result. I could make a list of these cases like the ill-named “Arab Spring”. One is what the Arab world wants, and another thing is what Europe-backed governments imposed on us while protecting their interests. The wealth of that elite clashed with the poverty that grew in a generation of youth who were ready to work.

-What is the current situation?

What we stand for is democracy, freedom of expression and defense of human rights. All of these things are in crisis today, we’re being murdered and our country is being torn apart. There are no human rights here. Raúl Castro was right when he said: we have to sit down and define once again what human rights mean, and where the noble principles are.

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