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Western Sahara and Moroccan Imperialism

terça-feira 8 de fevereiro de 2011, por Paulo Gomes, Paulo Gomes

Todas as versões desta matéria: [English] [Português do Brasil]

Translated by Malgorzata Chojnowska

It’s February 6th, the opening the World Social Forum in Dakar. The information I had is that the Forum’s opening march through the streets of the city, begins at 13h in front of the RTS - Radio Television Senegalaise, which is right next to the Grand Mosquée de Dakar, a huge mosque.

I arrived there around noon and I could see many different groups of participants ready to defend their claims with banners and shouting slogans. They were surrounded by cordons of police who prevented the dispersion. I saw Mauritanian refugees in Senegal; Moroccan families which have been expelled from Algeria crying for justice , French women against rapes by soldiers in conflict zones in Africa, Senegalese peasants against exploitation; and the Via Campesina against rape in rural Senegal. All groups, in a sense, preached a concept between equality, peace, justice, unity and democracy. What caught my attention, however, was request for the freedom of Western Sahara. They sang in Spanish " Marruecos asesino / Fuera de Sahara" (Morocco murderer / Get out of Sahara).

I was taking a walk around when I saw the Saharawis in a distance of few meters, some people were making impassioned speeches on the road. The first, a gray-haired gentleman with the European look, yelled in English about unity and equality for Africa. In response, another man began shouting in Spanish about the unity. The speech did not make much sense, seemed like a translation of the previous speaker. He insisted much on the unity, the equality, the union. When he finished I could understand his purpose, because he ended with a surprising “Sahara es de Marruecos” ("Sahara is Moroccan").

You know when you hear something so unexpected that you become frightened? Yeah. I thought "this guy said this?" And I began searching for the Saharawi group that I had seen about an hour before.

The country

Western Sahara is one of the few areas in the world that still has the status of a colony. It is the largest and the only one which is physically in one continent, since the others are islands.
Lies on the Atlantic coast of North Africa and was colonized by Spain from 1884 to 1975, under the name of Spanish Sahara. When Spain left the place, in 1975, the territory was divided between Mauritania (South) and Morocco (North).

Then came the Polisario Front, the nationalist movement that defends the independence of Western Sahara. Supported by Algeria (border to the north-east), they succeeded to release the territory of Mauritania. But not Morocco. Morocco still controls natural resources of the region, rich in phosphates and fisheries, and therefore has no interest in the independence of the nation which today is recognized by the African Union and over 58 countries.

Well then. The World Social Forum seeks to promote various social causes, but I was surprised with the presence of representatives from such opposite movements there. A Belgian journalist with whom I talked, Julien Vassenbroek, warned: "the Moroccans just sent a delegation to obfuscate the Saharawis, they do not have a cause". Seems reasonable. The Moroccan delegation does not walk around with banners, flags or singing songs. They only show the flag of the country, they do not seem angry about something, they don’t demand anything.

I come to one of them, Abdel Hak Laak, and ask about the exploitation. "It is not true," he says. He complements saying that he is there against poverty, inequality and war and he wants the union.
"We are against the division! It is a territory inside Morocco! " He speaks exalted. "The Hague Tribunal has already recognized that," he adds, trying to convince me. He refers to a 1975 decision at the time of division.

The version of Saaúris (habitants of Western Sahara).

Then I talk with Saaúris. "We are being occupied for almost half a century," says Fatimety Zrug. Now, Mahube Oulad Cheikh, who is the brother of a disappeared and who was himself a political prisoner, tells: "I was imprisoned for three years in Morocco." Mahube was arrested in 1989 on the border with Algeria, for being an activist for the liberation and he confirms having been tortured.

Another person, Yamila Sid Ahmed, seeing that I’m from the press, is telling that there is violence. According to Yamila, the Moroccan police killed her brother, Said 26 years old, last November 22nd, when he went out from a cyber café in the evening. "They approached him asking for the card from the internet (a carnet), but he didn’t have it, then they gave him a shot in the head and another in the chest," says Yamila, indignant and with eyes brimming with anger. Since then Said became a martyr of the movement, and the Moroccans "refused to do an autopsy to tell the cause of death." She said it wasn’t even given the dignity of a burial because the body is retained until today in a Moroccan military hospital.

The UN is seeking a solution, but like most of its proposals, the process is slow. Meanwhile, the Saaúris keep being exploited and their people are still dying.

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