VALENCIAN supporters of the Saharawi people travelled to Madrid on Saturday to join a demonstration against the Spanish government’s u-turn in its policy towards Morocco.
The protests in the capital come after a series of rallies across the country this week including one in Valencia on Thursday evening.
Supporters of the Saharawi people are demanding Pedro Sanchez‘s government go back on declarations made in a recent letter to King Mohamed VI of Morocco. In the letter, Moncloa said it believed Morocco’s proposal for an autonomous regime for the region was “the most sensible, realistic and conceivable proposal” to resolve the conflict.
But the Saharawi people and their supporters want Spain to uphold their right to self-determination in which, as far back as 1979, the United Nations has always voted to support “the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence.”
Western Sahara, a historic problem
The issue of Western Sahara, a coastal area in northwest Africa, close to the Canary Islands, has a long, complex, and delicate history. For more than 100 years it was a Spanish colony and people who lived there were entitled to Spanish nationality.
However, in 1975, around the time of Franco’s death, Morocco invaded the area,in what became known as the Marcha Verde, along with Mauritania although they withdrew in 1979. Spain, which had other domestic issues to deal with following the death of Franco, did not intervene in defence of its former colony and many Western Saharans fled to neighbouring Algeria, where they remain to this day in desert refugee camps where summer temperatures can exceed 50ºC.
Because of the conflict over their homeland these people, around 200,000 of them, are stateless, they have no nationality, no official papers to be able to travel, so are trapped in a desert where they can’t grow food to survive and are reliant on humanitarian aid.
Those who remained in Western Sahara live alongside their Moroccan “occupiers”, while some are part of the Frente Polisario, a nationalist independence movement, trying to fight for their homeland.
Tension between Spain and Morocco
In May 2021, in a humanitarian act, the leader of the Frente Polisario Brahim Ghali, was flown to Spain and admitted to San Pedro Hospital in Logroño to receive treatment for coronavirus. As a result diplomatic relations between Spain and Morocco worsened and Morocco responded by turning a blind eye to immigrants crossing the border in the north African Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. It was the catalyst for an influx of immigrants from Morocco and pictures of people crossing the borders were reported across all media last May.
With relations between Spain and Morocco still tense, Spain is keen to resolve the situation and find a “mutually acceptable solution”.
However, Pedro Sanchez’s recent letter to the King of Morocco and the message of support for Morocco’s plan is a complete u-turn from the position Spain has held until now in defence of UN resolutions to hold a referendum on the self-determination of Western Sahara. It also goes against the opinion of most Spaniards, some of whom campaigned in the rally in Madrid yesterday under the slogan “Not in my name”.
Split in the government.
Despite the letter being sent from the Spanish coalition government, not everyone in the cabinet supports Sánchez, indeed the second vice president, Yolanda Diaz, of Podemos, has vowed to support the rights of the Saharawi people.
So why would Sánchez choose to go against the majority of public opinion in Spain and those in his own government?
In 2020 US president, Donald Trump, recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara and Joe Biden appears to be continuing along the same lines. For the West, and especially the United States and the European Union, keeping on good terms with Morocco is important not only given its geographical location at the entrance to the Mediterranean but also to keep a lid on immigrants coming into Europe from North Africa. It seems the price to pay for keeping on good terms with Morocco is the destruction of the hopes and dreams of a few hundred thousand Saharawi people.