Terrorism and War in the Sahara

por Ana Camacho, 7 de octubre de 2008

The need to make amends for an unforgivable omission by the Spanish Administration has added to a list of dangers for the Polisario Front. Until now, its role as the Sahrawi people’s liberation movement has never been disputed, but now they have been downgraded to no more than a vulgar terrorist group. A new innovative episode of historical revisionism is threatening to sneak through via the Canarian Association of Terrorism Victims (ACAVITE) in order to demand recognition and help to defend the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination in their own land. Spaniards still require this same recognition and help after more than thirty years of suffering the consequences of the actions of the Polisary Front.
 
It seems that it is not a group acting just moved by an anti-Polisario grudge or some post-colonial resentment; they are just convinced that this is the most effective way to solve the problem endured by its members. Nevertheless, this group’s demands end up being the perfect alibi with which Morocco’s King Mohammed is about to obtain institutional recognition by the Zapatero Administration to his strategy of distorting the history of the invasion when he tried to annihilate the Sahrawi people.
 
The Polisario Front is not perfect, neither was the French resistance against the Nazi invasion during World War II, nor was the ANC fighting underground against South African apartheid and whose members, by the way, were depicted as terrorists by Nazis and racists Boers, respectively. But, until now, no one Â- with the obvious exception of pro-Moroccan lobbies Â- had thought of associating it with a form of terrorism, let alone to equate its actions with ETA’s. Nowadays, the stigma of terrorism has become a powerful way to discredit opponents carrying serious political and legal consequences. Branding the Polisario Front as such is one of the most desired objectives after sought by King Mohammed’s friends.
 
The Moroccan rulers have been trying to use this approach through several means. One of them, airing a certain connection between Polisario and Islamist terrorism Â- something filtered in the middle of the 3/11 tragedy. An older one was resorting to assume the similarities between Polisario and ETA. Their bet on this battle of semantic confusion is that the silence pervading the Sahrawi conflict favors the disappearance of that great difference marked by more than fifty UN resolutions recognizing the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination under the banner of freedom Â- something conspicuously absent in ETA’s case.
 
The omission Â- treacherously promoted by King Mohammed’s many friends in Spain Â- also intends to drag public opinion into an error that Rabat fosters when branding the Polisario Front as a gang whose threads lead to Algeria in order to break away from Morocco. Just as if the Sahara had been integrated as a state with Morocco when, in 1973, in the heat of this territory’s Spanish colonization, Polisario was born to provide continuity to the efforts that Bassiri, the first Sahrawi martyr fighting for liberation, had begun. In 1970, Bassiri had disappeared in Franquist jails after his arrest. In a peaceful manner, he had requested to the Spanish dictatorship the beginning of the self-determination process without any more delaysÂ- a compromise of the regime with the United Nations to decolonize the Saharan region. 
 
The Spanish troops, who during three years faced the Polisario forces, preferred to resort to terms such as “subversive” or “radical youngsters” when talking about Sahrawi rebels, branding them as anti-Spanish Â- with all the serious criminal baggage that this discrediting term carried. In their reports about the Sahara, the term “terrorism” was reserved by the ones in charge of the Spanish information services to be used about pseudo liberation movements, such as the Liberation and Unity Front (LUF,) trained and armed by Morocco, to pretend before the international community that the Sahrawis did not want independence but instead that the Spaniards left the territory in order to culminate decolonization returning the Sahara into the arms of the Moroccan motherland.
 
No one knew better than the Spanish military that Polisario militants were no angels. The amount of dead and wounded as a result of their actions among Spanish ranks facilitated that certain sectors settled the score with a “they had it coming,” about the Moroccan invasion that in 1975 came along the improper and complicit Spanish desertion of the territory. Yet not even venting their frustration could afford them to trample the UN’s displayed common sense opposing to identify the actions of self-defense carried out by armed liberation movements as terrorism. The end of an era justifying colonial submission of subjugated peoples was irreversible. Not even the alarm stirred in 1972 by the unfolding phenomenon of hijacking airliners was a justification for the United Nations to stop considered the situation of national liberation wars as state of war, and never as acts of terrorism. 
 
The Polisario Front was the enemy, those in charge of the mission to safeguard the Spanish presence in the Sahara, were pretty unceremonious with them. The Sahrawi combatants who survived that time still remember that becoming prisoners of their Spanish adversaries exposed them to torture, deportation, summary execution or, worse still, to be sent to Morocco Â-it already meant they could pay with their lives. But in that sinister logic usually entailed in all decolonization wars, Polisario’s Spanish enemies clearly knew that the Sahrawi combatants’ main objective was not to finish with their lives but to publicize their cause and put pressure on the Spanish Government to give them back their land.
 
For example, when Polisario had already been active for a year and had inflicted Spanish casualties, a Spanish intelligence report made a series of peculiar ascertainments. Some were about a certainty that not all the violent actions attributed to Polisario had really been carried out by the organization. Others emphasized the premeditated will of Sahrawis and its allies to minimize the damages suffered in their struggle. “In all the attacks carried out [by Polisario] against posts or detachments, two things have been demonstrated in every occasion: 1) They wanted neither European nor indigenous casualties; 2) Their means to attack have always been very poor (lack of mortars, hand grenades, and so forth.) The incidents with casualties had always been due to the fact that we had forced them into that desperate situation and in self-defense.” Evidently, the situation described by the report had nothing to do with, for example, the violence and scope reached in the Algerian struggle against French colonialists and a death toll by tens of thousands.
 
France constitutes a good example of how the process of decolonization can also translate in a very slow and heavy digestion for the old metropolis. The electoral leverage still brandished by those having nostalgia for French Algeria, has succeeded with that the Government Â- the self-proclaimed champion of the international community against the “barbarism of Bush’s imperialism” in Iraq Â- is now domestically embroiled in a controversy with imperialistic undertones Â- because of a law forcing all to recognize the civilizing benefits of its colonization and, very specially, its contribution to Algeria’s development.
 
The post-colonial trauma that the hurt French grandeur has been dragging on since 1962  for the loss of what it considered a province as French as Provence,  keeps on interfering even today in Franco-Algerian relations, sabotaging the good intentions of the authorities on both banks of the Mediterranean Sea to seal a powerful and mutually beneficial alliance. The vengeful demons never forgave the Algeria of the National Liberation Front (FLN) neither to have taken the road to independence nor the affront for refusing to sacrifice its vocation as a regional power in order to act just like a simple pawn of French neocolonial hegemony in Africa. Its shadow has loomed large and very strongly, for example, favoring unconditional support by Paris to Morocco (a model of post-colonial submission) against a Polisario endorsed by rebellious and uncontrollable Algeria, even at the expense of sacrifying the international legality that French foreign policy advocates in other scenarios. Its irrational logic has also led French politicians to unfathomable non sequiturs like the one refusing to show its repentance for the colonial massacres in Algeria and instead promoting a law demanding the Turks to apologize for the Armenian genocide. But not even this discourse Â- with which Imperial Nostalgia tried to impose by law the elevation of the Camembert’s intellectual benefits bursting in the Hoggar Mountains Â- has in its plans to recover the use of the term “terrorist” to brand Algerians who rejected the honor to be French. 
 
If nobody takes the lead Â- and everything indicates there is no danger of this happening Â- that innovative reading of the decolonization processes will belong to the political aces of the Spanish historical memory law. Rodríguez Zapatero’s PSOE got its chance through the struggle that Lucía Jiménez, President of ACAVITE, has been waging since 1999 Â- the date when the Victims of Terrorism Law came into force and her father could be recognized as a victim of terrorism. The alleged attack took place on January 10, 1976 in Western Sahara where Francisco Jiménez was working as an electrician for Fos Bucraa Â-company belonging to the National Institute of Industry that operated the Spanish colony’s phosphate deposits. Spain had not finished yet its exit after the agreements with which, in November 1975, Franco’s last government had surrendered the Sahrawi people to King Hassan of Morocco, violating UN resolutions and its duties as the administrator power. The Spanish treason against the Sahrawi people had unleashed a multi-headed war roaming the territory, in addition to Polisario and FLU guerrillas, there were battalions of Moroccan, Mauritanian and Algerian armies.
 
The vehicle in which Francisco Jiménez was traveling blew up when it drove over a landmine placed by the Polisario Front Â- something alleged by his daughter. He survived miraculously but suffered terrible physical and psychological consequences. Raimundo López, another worker accompanying Jiménez, died on the spot.
 
Nobody can deny solidarity to whom fate assigned the ticket of a sinister lottery. Something very different is to attribute the difficulties that the Jiménez family went through to a lack of humanitarian responsiveness by the Popular Party’s government in the family’s attempts to make Francisco invoke his right under the law seeking reimbursement or compensation from the State for “victims of terrorism or acts perpetrated by persons belonging to gangs or armed groups or acting with the purpose of seriously disturbing the peace and security of the citizens”.
 
The flexibility that the Jiménezes demand to make their case fit into the only opportunity that, at the moment, the law offers to help victims of violent acts so they receive the attention needed, forces an ellipsis that skips the peace and security of Western Sahara’s citizens already broken since October 1975 with the invasion promoted by the King of Morocco Â- with which he misappropriated most of the territory and implanted terror using troops, air power, and security forces devastating a defenseless civil population with genocidal fury.
 
The historical punctiliousness could be sacrificed in the name of a good cause if, with it, one were not culminating a dangerous distortion of the facts that ends up turning into a crime the right to self-determination, recognized by the United Nations to defend oneself from the aggression of a third party. Jiménez herself has assured that she does not look for culprits. She suspects the landmine that tragically marked the destiny of her family, did not have as a target the Spanish workers who remained in a territory engulfed by an international war, but to stop the advance of Moroccan troops that, with the support of its Mauritanian allies, were completing the illegal occupation of the territory in those days. Therefore, it seems she does not intend to create a precedent with which people such as Jose Martí, Simón Bolívar, George Washington, Ho Chi Minh or Manuela Malasaña herself could be considered terrorists.
 
And if the Popular Party had accepted Jiménez’s demands? Immediately, some would have urged to mobilize in outrage using text messaging against what it would have been considered a lingering feeling of “fascist nostalgia,” because of the national-catholic civilizing mission glories as a revengeful piece of Francoism that never forgave Polisario for its leftist persuasion Â- or maybe as a new test for the Popular Party’s stubborn trend to step over the will of other peoples.
 
In the hands of people considering it is an anathema to speak about Palestinian terrorism or who would put anyone on the spot if doubting that the terrorists in Iraq are the American invaders and the Iraqis putting bombs are legitimate insurgents, would have been suspicious the certainty with which it was assured that the road bomb pumping Francisco Jiménez’s body full of shrapnel and that left him almost blind, belonged to Polisario. They were probably right since Â- though the closing down of the Sahara archives make it difficult to elucidate the facts Â- it was in a public speech when Franco’s own ambassador to the UN, Jaime de Piniés, asked for the UN Security Council’s intervention against the wrongly-called Green March (the Alaouite invasion,) denouncing that Moroccan FLU’s “terrorists” had also contributed to fill the Sahrawi territory with landmines. It is also very dangerous to accept as a fact that the machine-gunnings suffered by Canarian fishing boats in Saharan waters were always carried out by Polisario: There are examples and data that show that the Moroccan side carried out some of the attacks and then attributed them to Sahrawis in order to short-circuit a inconvenient Spanish-Polisario understanding.
 
The Popular Party would have had a very difficult time escaping the outrage of NGOs supporting the Sahrawi people. However, Zapatero’s Socialists have turned the claims of Jiménez and other victims of the Saharan conflict into a test that, when push comes to shove, the Popular Party is not receptive to victims of terrorism unless they are birds of a feather. So, in 2006, after the Socialist government granted compensation recognizing that Francisco Jiménez was the victim of a terrorist attack and that there is a terrorist group called the Polisario Front, it has been very receptive to the intentions Jiménez has promoted Â- one of ACAVITES’s main goals is to “institutionalize”  the recognition of Polisario’s terror victims.
 
The support that ACAVITE has received from the Catalonian Association of Terrorist Organizations’ Victims (ACVOT) that broke away from the Terrorism Victims Association (AVT) alleging that his then president Francisco José Alcaraz gave preference to defend the interests of the Popular Party than those of the association’s has contributed to this peculiar pirouette. ACVOT, accused as well of its herd behavior towards Zapatero by AVT, has put much emphasis in reminding that ACAVITE resorted to them due to the lack of help and sensitivity shown to Canarian victims by the “Madrid Association.” 
 
Trapped in a race in which each side must demonstrate it has a higher sensitivity, the solution to this dilemma raised by ACAVITE seems to have become encased in a dichotomy in which one either recognizes Polisario’s terrorism or one is giving the cold shoulder in a painful and unfair way to citizens left aside by the Administration because it considered them just mere victims of work-related accidents.
 
Jiménez’s father and the Canarian fishermen who were victims of landmines, kidnappings and naval machine-gunnings during the 80s, fulfilled the old aphorism saying that, in the end, when in a silly situation, it is always the innocent who pay. It was not their fault that in January 1976, the Sahara had become the epicenter of a war as bloody as to force Moroccans Â- who had the advantage Â- to shut down Laayoune Airport to hide the evacuation of their many dead and wounded (as it is on record in the information of the Spanish services on the ground.)  They do not have to share the blame for the atrocities that the Sahrawi people went through for not accepting to hoist the invaders’ flag. Neither were they at fault for the plundering Â- not even Spanish belongings escaped Â- carried out by Moroccans and Mauritanians as soon as they took control over the cities that the Spanish troops were forced to leave behind because of their commander’s orders.
 
One cannot continue forcing them to hide their sorrow either as the counterpart for the suffering of Sahrawi women, children and the elderly who were the object of napalm bombings when fleeing through the desert Â- bombings that Moroccans used trying to sweep away Polisario’s resistance in the Sahara. They, just like the Sahrawis, were also victims of a war that sparked off an aggression that the Spanish Government should have avoided, not only as a moral imperative, but because the UN compelled them to defend Sahrawi interests. The Sahara was and still is (according to the law) a territory administered by Spain, and everyone, Spanish and Sahrawi victims, were defenseless because the State inhibited its actions and did not exert its commitment to protect all.
 
It is more than justified that the former Minister of Justice, Fernando López Aguilar, and Government representatives Â- who recently met with ACAVITE Â- demonstrate with facts the greater social commitment they boast to the Popular Party. But, since it is a matter of exuding sensitivity, there is a chance to design a formula demonstrating respect for all peoples Â- something that Zapatero promised once more during the election campaign.
 
After all, it would be enough if instead of “victims of Polisario’s terrorism,” they were to create a paragraph for ACAVITE’s victims identifying them as victims of the Saharan conflict or of decolonization. Loyalty to truth does not have to conflict with the respect for the pain born by Spanish or Sahrawi victims, unless Fernando López Aguilar Â- who boasts of his abilities to be welcomed by the Moroccan rulers Â- prefers ambiguity in order to score more points than the Minister of Foreign Relations, Miguel Ángel Moratinos. It is a matter of checking Moroccan blogs about the Sahara to see the satisfaction oozing in all the information about the Polisarian terror generated by the ACAVITE struggle. As a Guinean democrat and supporter of his “brothers’” cause for African Spanishness said recently, it is not easy to reach “the superlative of astonishment” that turns the world upside down producing as a result that the hunted become the hunters.
 
©2008 Translated by Miryam Lindberg