Protests erupt against Spanish government’s “betrayal” of Saharawi freedom

The Spanish government recently announced that it recognized Morocco’s plan to integrate Western Sahara as an autonomous territory within their country, going back on its longstanding commitment to push for a self-determination referendum

March 28, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Thousands mobilized in Madrid in support of Saharawi self-determination. Photo: PCE

Progressive sections in Spain and abroad protested the move by Spanish president Pedro Sanchez to go back on Spain’s commitments for the decolonization of the Western Sahara. The head of state sent a letter to King Mohamed VI on March 14, made public days later by the Moroccan government, stating that Spain “considers the Moroccan proposal for autonomy presented in 2007 as the most serious, credible, and realistic base for the resolution” of the question of Western Sahara.

After the content of the letter was made public, Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, insisted that Spain’s position on Western Sahara is in the framework of the United Nations and that it does not constitute a major shift in position. He told the Senate: “The position of Spain is within the framework of the United Nations Charter, in the resolutions of the Security Council, and of course, in support of the mission and the work of the people for Western Sahara.” He called it a “new moment in relations with Morocco”.

The move from the Spanish government has triggered widespread outrage across the county including from coalition partners in the PSOE led government like United Left (IU). The Communist Party of Spain (PCE) wrote on twitter “The PCE is steadfast in its solidarity with the Saharawi people. The Spanish obligation is to guarantee the self-determination referendum. Free Sahara, Polisario will win!”

Protests were organized in Madrid on March 26 outside Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to denounce the move by the government. The Saharawi liberation movement, the Polisario Front, has appealed to Spanish political parties to urge the Spanish government to end its collaboration with the colonial regime in Morocco and to allow for the Saharawi people to exercise their right to self-determination and independence.

Western Sahara was a colony of Spain till its withdrawal in 1975. It has since been occupied by Morocco. The Polisario Front which governs the eastern parts of Western Sahara as Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, claims sovereignty over all of Western Sahara and terms the Moroccan control as “occupation.”

The United Nations and the majority of the world does not recognize Moroccan claims of sovereignty over the territory. The UNSC resolution 690 adopted in April 1991 called for a referendum to be held to decide the status of the Western Sahara. Polisario Front and other international entities have been campaigning for this referendum to be held. The Spanish government was also a strong proponent of the referendum until the latest statements.

Despite widespread support, Morocco has refused to conduct the referendum, with the tacit support of the US and France and proposed to incorporate the Western Sahara as an autonomous territory within the country.

The Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain (PCPE) has accused that “It’s one more episode in the long history of treason and crimes of Spanish colonialism. A historic cycle that closes with this decision of the Government of Pedro Sanchez, which intends to deliver the Saharawi people to the absolute dominance of a criminal dictatorship in Morocco, violating the most fundamental principles of international law, as well as the responsibilities of Spain as a former administrative power of that territory, as it is stated in UN resolution regarding the self-determination referendum of the Saharawi people.”

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