Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Inconvenient Guest

Life isn’t easy for a political exile at the best of times, but it can become much harder when the country in which you are exiled decides you are no longer welcome to stay. Take the case of Severo Moto, the best known political exile from the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea. The Spanish authorities have been making quite determined efforts since 2005 to remove the status of political asylum from Moto, efforts which received a severe setback when the Supreme Court overturned the government’s decision to withdraw this status. Following that decision Moto has been arrested in connection with a very curious case of gun running.

The case concerns a second hand car which was being shipped from Spain to Equatorial Guinea. The car in question contained a shotgun, a machine gun and a pistol, together with various cartridges which it seems do not fit any of these weapons. The person who was due to receive the car in Equatorial Guinea subsequently suffered a fate common to anyone opposing the regime of that country; he failed to leave a police station alive. Something doesn’t fit, an exile who is facing expulsion from Spain allegedly organises the sending of a useless arms cache containing three obsolete weapons at the very time when the courts are considering his right to remain in Spain!

Moto has of course been associated with efforts to overturn the regime governing his country in the past. Most famously, there was the coup attempt in 2004 in which the boy Thatcher was heavily involved, and which has one of its main organisers currently languishing in the specially built Old Etonians wing of the Black Beach prison in Equatorial Guinea. Who said the class system was dead? Moto flew to the Canary Islands immediately prior to the failed coup, and was said to be the person who the mercenaries involved were going to install as the new (puppet) president of the country. The knowledge that the Spanish government may have had of this plan has never been fully clarified, nor has the mysterious about turn by two Spanish warships that were heading towards the country as the attempted coup fell apart.

Meanwhile Equatorial Guinea held elections last week, and the regime has claimed support very close to 100%. In an electoral process that makes Zimbabwe’s election seem like a model of democratic openness the only opposition party permitted has been awarded precisely one seat in the country’s parliament. Another democratic innovation in this election was the introduction of the “patriotic vote”, which consists of the voter publicly displaying his vote before placing it into the ballot box. Nobody is in danger of being deafened by the diplomatic protests over this bogus electoral process. A parliamentary deputation from Spain even seemed quite satisfied with it, and talked of encouraging democratic advances. I think there is a potential role here for that genius of a diplomat who rebadged turning a blind eye as "constructive engagement". All we need now is some infantile leftist to come along and claim that all this cuddling up to the regime is because the country has become a major oil producer in the last few years. In the meantime it might help if applicants for political asylum in Europe would try not to do anything that might displease the dictatorships from which they have fled.

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