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Sáharacciones and the movement for solidarity with Western Sahara

Anselmo Fariña
Member of the Sáharacciones collective


Above all else, we are human beings, we are only Sahrawis or Canary Islanders due to circumstances
(Hmad Hammad to the Sáharacciones group, September 2010)

A necessary step, but one that is difficult to take

Demonstrating in the streets of occupied El Aaiún, assuming that we could be beaten or even spend some time detained by the Moroccan regime, was a decision that was consciously taken by the Sáharacciones collective, which includes those of us who travelled to occupied Western Sahara and the members of the logistic support and communication group who remained in Tenerife.

What we call the first Saharaction took place in the context of the lack of progress in the situation in Sahara after thirty-five years of occupation and exile, nineteen years of ceasefire, and five years of Intifada. Over this period, the Kingdom of Morocco has assumed that the passing of time, support from France and the inaction of the Spanish government will consolidate the de facto situation, thereby finally making the international community legally recognise a change in frontiers that came about as a result of an act of force.

The immediate cause of our action was the need to try to end with the media's silence on the conflict in the Sahara, and especially on the situation of the Sahrawi population in the territories occupied by Morocco, who are subjected to a daily and systematic violation of their rights, with a brutality to which the media and the so-called international community remain insensitive. The EU's concession of the Advanced Statute of Association to the Kingdom of Morocco was particularly significant.

Government cynicism, people solidarity

The Spanish Government tries to justify its inaction and its failure to meet its obligations as the administrative power of Western Sahara which has to implement decolonisation of the territory based on the self-determination of the Sahrawi population. They refer, to the complex international relations that it says make the situation of the Sahrawi people acceptable as the necessary price to be paid for the role of the Moroccan regime which by controlling illegal immigration, drugs trafficking and radical Islamism has become a disgraceful but necessary guarantor of our peace and prosperity.

Of course, another perspective is possible, which focuses on the long-standing relationships between certain Spanish economic groups and the Moroccan monarchy, in a situation similar to neo-colonialism, which includes the power base of the successive Moroccan kings as the structural basis for the maintenance of an expansionist policy which sometimes comes into conflict with interests that are nominally defended by Spain. This expansionist policy directly affects the Sahrawi people, but also affects the Canary Islands and the countries of north-east Africa as a whole, which are part of the region claimed by the more radical currents of Moroccan nationalism.

The decision by Spain and the EU to reluctantly accept the Kingdom of Morocco as an inconvenient partner due to its geopolitical role may conceal the fact that their real commitment is to maintaining a regime that is favourable to business by companies based in Spain (the second largest investor country), France (the leading investor country) and the EU as a whole, including the Western Sahara as Moroccan territory. This approach seems very dangerous, both because of the contradictions that it fosters in Moroccan society, and for the instability that it fuels in the region.

Compared to turning this a blind eye, or to put it another way, looking towards European business interests which have prevailed among successive Spanish governments, the feeling of responsibility for the Sahrawi people is widespread among Spanish people and has led to countless humanitarian aid initiatives in support of the population exiled in the Algerian desert. However, the cynical attitude of governments has led to a prolonging of the suffering, which this humanitarian solidarity can only mitigate. Meanwhile, a political solution to the conflict would enable the Sahrawi people to leave behind the state of vagrancy to which the powers wish to reduce it.

For this reason, we planned our Saharaction with obviously political content, as part of a growing movement among people expressing solidarity with the Sahrawi cause. For this reason, in our subsequent initiatives we have insisted on the need for the spotlight not to focus on our action, however spectacular, daring or reckless it appeared to those investigating our motivations, nor on our physical condition, however striking some of the images were, nor the neglect of our welfare by the Spanish Government. None of these can describe the situation experienced by the fourteen people who went to El Aaiún. Our action highlighted the suffering of Sahrawi human rights activists and the Sahrawi population as a whole under the Moroccan occupation: suffering, indescribable physical abuse and neglect.

What is the outlook for solidarity with the Sahara?

While our society continues to allow those who govern us to cynically use human rights to justify military action at the other end of the world, and at the same time they find arguments involving a supposed "realpolitik" to close their eyes before the routine barbarism in Western Sahara, the situation will continue to get worse.

In this context, humanitarian solidarity, which is essential and which must increase to try and improve the conditions of resistance in exile in the camps, is clearly insufficient.

Actions like those taken by our collective and those by other activists are essential for breaking down the isolation of the conflict, but are also clearly insufficient.

As it also happened in South Africa when the apartheid was drew to end and as it is happening now with solidarity with Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, it is necessary to place demand that Spain and the EU call for a solution to the conflict in the Sahara, based on respect for the human rights of the Sahrawi people, and on the agenda of social movements. This includes respect for its right to self-determination, which is internationally recognised by the institutions that humankind has provided itself with, despite their imperfections and contradictions.

This increased commitment to political solidarity is what would ultimately give meaning to the Saharactions we have undertaken and which we will continue to undertake at any time.

The situation of the exiled Sahrawis and those suffering from the brutality of the occupation of their land requires nothing less of us - it is our duty due to our historic responsibility.