Monday, November 15, 2010

Spain's Government Turns Its Back On The Western Sahara

Demonstrators took to the streets of Madrid on Saturday to express their opposition to Morocco's brutal repression of a peaceful protest camp in the Western Sahara. Not many of those who demonstrated came from the governing PSOE, and the stance adopted by Spain's government during the last view days has provoked much indignation amongst those who hoped that the government at least sympathised quietly with the cause of the former Spanish colony.

Prime minister Zapatero made it clear where he stands on the issue, Spain's interests with Morocco come first and the diplomatic reaction has been minimal. This is despite the fact that at least one Spanish passport holder is said to have been killed as the Moroccans destroyed the camp, and Spanish activists and journalists have either been denied access to the city of El Aaiún or they have been unceremoniously dumped onto the next plane to Las Palmas.

The warning signs were already evident with the Spanish government's uncomfortable reaction to the hunger strike last year by Saharan activist Aminatou Haidar. Eventually Haidar's action forced enough pressure on the government for it to negotiate her return home, but the initial reaction in that case by the Spanish government was to try and persuade her to quietly disappear into a life of exile in Spain itself.

In truth there has been no sudden change in Spanish policy on the Western Sahara, even though it might seem that way from the old photos now surfacing of the recently appointed foreign minister Trinidad Jiménez wearing a sticker in support of the Saharans. Spanish governments have accepted tacitly for years that the former colony has been annexed by Morocco. The Moroccans have successfully played the Israeli game of prolonging negotiations whilst creating facts on the ground until the international community becomes exhausted with the issue. Not that they were ever that interested in the first place.

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