Morocco has prevented dozens of Spanish politicians from most parties from entering Western Sahara

Speaking of Occidental Sahara, the majority of citizens have in mind the refugee population camps of Tindouf (Algeria). Thousands of people have subsisted for more than 45 years in an inhospitable desert. Cooperation projects, humanitarian aid and the Holidays in Peace program have brought this territory very close to our country. For decades, institutional and political trips to the camps, managed by the Polisario Fronthave been frequent. But much less is known and talked about what happens on the other side of the wall built by Morocco. In the occupied territories, those that really correspond to the former colony, Moroccan forces have prevented visits by Spanish politicians on numerous occasions, who have almost never been able to even get off the plane.

From cities such as El Aaiun, Dajla or Bojador there are frequent complaints from Saharawi activists about repression, arrests, arbitrary trials or torture. International Human Rights Organizations have joined them. It is also not usual to be able to travel to the field as a journalist and there are dozens of cases of expelled information professionals, as well as Human Rights (HR) activists, such as those who tried to meet with Sultana Jaya last year. The PNV spokesman, Aitor Esteban, recalled this Wednesday in Congress, during the appearance of Pedro Sanchezthat Morocco had been preventing politicians from traveling to Western Sahara for decades, something that would collide with the “serious and credible” efforts of the neighboring country to solve the conflict.

One of the active policies that Moroccan action proved a few years ago is Ines Sabanes, currently a deputy for More Country-Greens Equo in Congress. In 2005 she was a councilor for IU in the Madrid City Council. Other councilors from the PSOE in Fuenlabrada and Alcalá de Henares traveled with her, as well as several journalists. None were able to get off the plane upon arrival in El Aaiún. “At that time, many clashes were taking place in the Sahara. The objective was to make the situation in the territory visible, because there was a lot of invisibility,” Sabanés recalls in conversation with Public.

“The commander told us that he had orders not to get off the plane,” explains Inés Sabanés, who tried to travel in 2005.

The organizers of the trip, who were part of organizations in defense of human rights, had informed the Spanish and Moroccan institutions of the trip. “As the plane landed, we saw a lot of police on the runway. The commander told us through the microphone that he had orders not to get off the plane,” Sabanés points out. The group was returned to Las Palmas. Gaspar Llamazares, then IU coordinator, tried to negotiate with the Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos. It was unsuccessful. At that time, another group of politicians of different signs, from Asturias, suffered the same fate as the Madrid delegation.

“We had a very tense interview with the Moroccan consul. But no one later made a formal complaint from the government,” adds the deputy. Sabanés points out that in other conflicts, such as the one in Colombia, they have been able to travel to verify the respect for human rights. “Morocco is very arrogant in this, if they are making every effort, they should start by allowing verification missions. It is one of the ways of defusing conflicts,” he says.

In 2010, two public officials from Nueva Canarias, the mayor of San Mateo (Gran Canaria), Gregorio González, and the councilor of Telde, Josefa Milan, did manage to spend time in El Aaiún. “The feeling is of a city based on terror and fear,” said González, who explained that they had an interview with the Saharawi activist Aminetu Haidar, with whom they were “until 4 in the morning making visits”. In their case, when they were expelled, they denounced that the Moroccan forces seized their documentation.

Who also experienced a similar situation was Willy Mayer, in 2011, when he was an MEP for IU. In his case, he even denounced an assault by the Moroccan security forces, who pushed him back inside the plane after trying to go down the stairs. The following year, Morocco also expelled a group of activists, including political officials from Norway.

PP, PSOE or Nueva Canarias

Another significant example was experienced in 2014 by the then mayor of Zamora, Rosa Valdeón, of the PP. A doctor by profession, he has a long involvement with the Saharawi conflict. The also former vice president of the Junta de Castilla y León points out to this medium that she did not go on the trip as a representative of her party or as mayor. “The trip was due to my commitment to the situation in the Sahara,” she said. Her visit generated a stir in the PP, which distanced itself from it. Valdeón remembers that they showed him photographs with Saharawi representatives in Zamora on the plane. “They kicked me out because they understood that he had links with the Saharawi people,” he says.

“What surprised me and continues to surprise me is that Morocco presumes that the Sahara is its territory. It will not be so much theirs when they apply a policy that does not allow entry to certain people. In Marrakech they do not make you preventive expulsions, for example”, reflects the former leader of the PP. Valdeón remembers that they told him that he was not welcome when the Moroccan security forces came up. “Something has to be done; but instead of going to the dictator, go to the UN,” reflects the former mayor of Zamora about the turnaround made by the Government.

“What do they have to hide?” asks José Eduardo Ramírez, NC councilor expelled in 2014

Shortly thereafter, three counts of New Canary they tried again. on the trip he went Jose Eduardo Ramirez, councilor, also currently, in the City Council of Las Palmas. At that time the death of a Saharawi had been denounced, something that provoked numerous demonstrations in the occupied territory. “We went as observers to see if human rights were respected,” he tells this medium. His plane was surrounded by Moroccan soldiers and the rest of the passengers were able to get off. Ramírez and his companions had their passports withheld. “They told us that we were not welcome in Morocco,” he says.

The commander of the plane mediated with the police forces so that the supporting documents would be returned to them and they returned to the Canary Islands on that same plane. “What do they have to hide?” asks the Canarian councilor. “We were warned that it could happen. Even that they could leave us at some border,” recalls Ramírez. Therefore, they were prepared for any situation.

The member of Nueva Canarias regrets that they do not official explanations from Morocco, and neither from the Government for these expulsions. “It is surprising that they knew exactly who we were on. They monitor everything that moves on the planes. They know who they have to stop and who they don’t,” he adds. Ramírez acknowledges living with “a lot of frustration” Sánchez’s turn, especially considering that his party supported him in the investiture. “You can’t trade the rights of peoples,” he says.

Another trip departed from Galicia in 2016, in this case made up of Consuelo Martínez (Mixed Group), Noela Blanco (PSOE), Xabier Ron (AGE-En Marea), Gonzalo Trenor (PP,) and Montse Prado (BNG). They were all part of the inter-parliamentary group of the Galician parliament on the Sahara. In practically all the Autonomous Courts there are similar groups across the board.

The White socialist, in conversation with this medium, remembers the episode. “We left Las Palmas, landed in El Aaiún and they told us that we could not get off while other passengers were getting off,” she says. Members of solidarity associations and journalists were also traveling on the flight. The Moroccan police took away their passports and they were inside the plane without them for about 40 minutes. “The matter was not at all diplomatic,” White says. At that time they warned in Spain that they were being held. A representative of the Saharawi city, along with soldiers and policemen, accessed the aircraft.

“The feeling I had It was lack of protection, even fear. There was a lot of verbal aggressiveness,” adds Blanco. The objective of the trip was to collect testimonies about the situation. “What was transmitted to us was that we were not welcome because we had a partial vision of the subject,” Blanco recalls. They tried to explain that they would also meet with positions of the Government of Morocco. But the result was expulsion. On the way back, Blanco and his companions experienced a “special” moment, as he explains. In Las Palmas, the Saharawi activist Haidar was waiting for them. “If they react like that with us, what they will do inside”, he reflects. “The expulsion of institutional representatives from a country is serious. And it’s happened to all of us,” she concludes.

MEPs expelled

More recently, in October 2017, it was the turn of a delegation of MEPs. The group was made up of Paloma Lopez, of the United Left; Josu Juaristi, from EH Bildu; Lidia Senra, from AGE; and the parliamentarians of Sweden Jytte Guteland and Bodil Valero. The five were part of the European Parliament intergroup on Western Sahara. “We had concerted visits with organizations, we wanted to speak with all the parties; we had no problem being accompanied without obscurantism,” recalls López, today the CCOO’s general secretary in Madrid.

“We had a scuffle with the security forces, because they came recording and I told them that we would record too. The tone was lowered a bit and we were in a tug-of-war but the plane commander told us that we were going back to the Canary Islands,” adds the former MEP. López recalls how some of the passengers who were on the plane and were able to get off discreetly encouraged them and asked them not to abandon them.

“Morocco uses the entire migratory issue and has a special neighborhood status in the EU. They are privileged and they enforce it. That’s how it’s very complicated. They have there in Brussels a lobby permanent and they invest a lot of resources in it”, he adds. For López, the objective of the trip was also to transfer the Saharawi issue to other EU countries, since he considers that it is a little-known conflict. And in this sense the company of the two MEPs from Sweden with whom he shared the trip “It is not just a Spanish issue, but a more global one,” he says.

Much earlier, in 2006, Morocco had formally vetoed, before it left, a trip by a delegation of MEPs organized from the EU itself. The then President of the European Parliament, Joseph Borrelltried to negotiate with the Moroccan authorities.

In 2019, a group of Basque parliamentarians tried again a trip. Among them was Carmelo Barrio, from the PP, along with Eva Juez (PNV), Josu Estarrona (EH Bildu) and Iñigo Martínez (Elkarrekin Podemos). Barrio had already managed to travel to the occupied territory years ago, although he noted his feeling of being “constantly watched.”

One of the last travel attempts took place in February 2020, shortly before the start of the pandemic. A group of deputies from Parliament of Cataloniafrom different political groups such as ERC, En Comú and CUP, had the same result as its predecessors.

The cases mentioned in this article are just a few examples of a longer list of attempts. There are not many who have managed to meet with Saharawis. Yes it did, for example, Rosa Diez, in 2009. Coinciding with Haidar’s hunger strike in the Canary Islands, the then leader of UPyD was able to visit the house of her children. She lasted a few hours and she was taken out of there by the Moroccan police. The unknown, in this “new framework of relations with Morocco”, as Moncloa defines the agreement reached with the neighboring country, will be to know if this type of trip is going to be allowed soon.

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