Since the 1970s, Morocco, with the backing of its imperialist masters in Washington, Paris, and Madrid, has occupied this nation. In that period, the U.S. government alone has given the Moroccan regime more than $1 billion in military aid, used largely against the Sahrawi independence struggle and against resistance by workers and peasants inside Morocco.
A few dozen foreign guests from several organizations supporting the Sahrawi people's struggle for independence recently visited the refugee camps of Western Sahara. The solidarity visit, which included members of the International Organizing Committee for an anti-imperialist world youth festival planned for August in Algiers, coincided with the Fifth Congress of the Union of Youth of Western Sahara (Ujsario), which was held June 9, the Day of the Martyrs holiday here.
Ujsario organized meetings for its guests with the head of parliament of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the government-in-exile of Western Sahara, and with activists in the Association of Family Members of the Sahrawi Prisoners and Disappeared, among others. The international guests stayed with Sahrawi families in the tents that have been their homes for some 25 years and learned firsthand about the Sahrawis' tenacious struggle for independence.
The people of Western Sahara began to forge a national identity more than a cen tury ago. In 1884, the Spanish throne proclaimed Western Sahara a protectorate. Spanish colonial domination was codified a year later at the Berlin Conference in which the imperialist powers of Europe carved up Africa among themselves. Since then the Sahrawi people organized revolts, protests, and other resistance against the Spanish colonizers.
The first urban anti-imperialist movement emerged in 1967 with the founding of the Organization for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Ouad ed-Dahab, two regions that make up Western Sahara. The movement was violently suppressed and many of the Sahrawis murdered by the Spanish authorities.
In 1973, a young anticolonial fighter, El-Ouali, led a group of Sahrawi students and drew together Sahrawis from the surrounding region to form the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, or Polisario in Spanish, to fight for national independence. The Polisario Front launched a guerrilla war against Spanish rule.
Two years later, the governments of Spain, Mauritania, and Morocco signed the Madrid Accords, in which the Spanish rulers ended their direct control of Western Sahara and turned over the upper two-thirds of the country to the Moroccan regime and the lower one-third to Mauritania. Although Western Sahara was no longer a direct colony of Spain, the Spanish imperialists maintained political and economic domination over the region.
The largest phosphate deposits in the world are in the Saharan city of Bu Craa. Under the accords, Spain was given a 35 percent stake in the Bu Craa phosphate mine, which remains a source of tremendous profit--and in imperialist interest in who controls this country.
Another decisive factor in denying the people of Western Sahara their self-determination was the "dangerous" example the Sahrawi liberation fighters--who were carrying out a determined struggle against Spanish imperialism--set for other working people in Africa and the Middle East. The imperialist powers of Spain, France, and the United States, which feared this example in a country of about 200,000 inhabitants, poured billions of dollars into the coffers of the Moroccan and Mauritanian regimes to help prop them up and bolster their military occupation of Western Sahara.
Repression by Moroccan regime
In 1975, the same year the Madrid Accords were signed, the Moroccan monarchy launched the "green march" in an attempt to crush the independence movement. Tens of thousands of chauvinist supporters of Moroccan king Hassan II, backed by 20,000 troops from the Royal Forces Army, invaded Western Sahara and established settlements.
Hundreds of Sahrawis who refused to publicly acknowledge the king of Morocco were murdered, and some 80 percent of the people living in the Saharan capital city, El Aaiun, were driven out of the country and into refugee camps in Algeria. The military, funded largely by Washington, carried out napalm bombings against the Sahrawi population. Today, close to 200,000 Sahrawis live in the refugee camps in the middle of the Algerian desert.
Brehim Dahi, a member of the Association of Family Members of Sahrawi Prisoners and Disappeared, explained to international guests during the June visit that some 2,000 Sahrawis have been "disappeared" during the struggle against the Moroccan occupation. The Moroccan regime refuses to give any information about the number of people who have been imprisoned, tortured, or killed fighting for independence. This strategy is also carried out against those struggling against the monarchy inside Morocco. The government has only confirmed holding one Sahrawi prisoner of war.
In spite of brutal repression, the Polisario Front continued the independence struggle against Morocco and Mauritania and dealt blows to those pro-imperialist regimes. They carried out sustained attacks on the Zouerate iron ore mine in Mauritania and the railway connected to it, reducing output in 1978 to only a quarter of the prewar levels.
A year later, with an unpopular war absorbing one-third of Mauritania's budget and an increasingly demoralized army, the Mauritanian government was overthrown in a coup. The new regime renounced its claims to Western Sahara and soon recognized the government-in-exile of the SADR, led by the Polisario Front. The Moroccan government moved in to occupy the remainder of Western Sahara.
The Polisario Front also attacked the Bu Craa phosphate mines and other parts of Moroccan-occupied Sahara. The Moroccan government in Rabat has answered this resistance by building a series of walls totaling 2,000 kilometers in length around the main cities and towns in Western Sahara to try to stop the Polisario Front from advancing their struggle. Thousands of Sahrawis live outside the walled-off areas in the liberated zones of the country controlled by Polisario.
In 1989 the Polisario Front and the Moroccan regime signed a cease-fire agreement brokered by the United Nations. According to the pact, Sahrawis in occupied Western Sahara, in the liberated zones, and in the refugee camps would vote in a referendum on two choices: integration of their country with Morocco or independence.
"From the moment the agreement was reached, the Moroccan government began to violate the cease-fire," said Salem Besir, the head of parliament of the SADR. "In spite of the fact we have the right to independence, we respected the cease-fire and UN referendum to try to solve this conflict peacefully. When it was clear that the entire people wanted independence, democracy, and an end to autocracy, Morocco began obstructing the cease-fire."
Among other moves, the Moroccan government demanded that 120,000 of its citizens take part in the referendum vote in order to rig the outcome. It also moved thousands more settlers from Morocco to Western Sahara.
"Holding the Ujsario congress comes out of the need to respond to the people's anger and frustration after 10 years of a cease-fire that has gone nowhere," said Besir. "Our people are pressing the Polisario Front to go back to war. Our army is ready. The Polisario Front threatened to break the cease-fire April 7 after a group from France asked permission from Morocco to enter our country but refused to consult our government. This was just one of too many examples of open defiance of our right to sovereignty and pretending that we do not exist. We are not going to stay in the desert of another country forever, relying on others for aid. We have our land, our homes, everything in Western Sahara.
"The Moroccan government, when it invaded our land in 1975, said it would finish the job that Spain failed to do. They said they would defeat the Polisario Front in three days. When they met resistance and found no support in Western Sahara, they tried to blame Algeria and other countries for supporting our struggle. Twenty-six years have passed and we're still here, undefeated."
From its founding, the Polisario Front has reached out to win solidarity for the right to Saharan independence. Several organizations, especially in Spain, where the largest concentration of Sahrawi immigrants live, work to spread knowledge and support for their struggle. Since the founding of the Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara in 1976, many governments around the world have officially recognized the government-in-exile. Algeria has provided schooling, military training, and economic aid to the Saharan people.
During the visit to the refugee camps, Juan Carlos Frómeta, a leader of the Union of Young Communists in Cuba, addressed one of the meetings. "It gives me pride to have the opportunity to be part of the events around the Ujsario congress. We will continue to offer our modest contribution to your struggle by providing university education in Cuba for Sahrawis to study education and medicine as part of the Cuban Revolution's unconditional support for your struggle."
Metu Moustafa, 25, is part of the generations born and raised in the refugee camps. Her father is one of hundreds of those "disappeared" during the guerrilla war with Morocco. Moustafa belongs to the organization of family members of prisoners and disappeared. "Life is difficult here, in the middle of an uninhabitable desert with the blazing sun and cold winters," she said. "The fight to go back to our country is important. But more important is the struggle to free the tens of thousands of Sahrawis living under the king of Morocco."
Demonstrations in the occupied territory are frequently attacked by the police. Moustafa explained that each week, her organization receives updates about recent arrests of freedom fighters. "What the king of Morocco does not understand is that nobody can stop us. He cannot imprison the entire population. The attempts to break our spirit keeps fueling more determination to fight back."
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home