Without getting into the merits of the Sahwari people’s claims over the disputed territories in Moroccan controlled Western Sahara, it is hard for me to understand what a group of Spanish actors have to do with any of it.
The story goes something like this. Spain had colonies in Northern Morocco between 1912 and 1956, and in Western Sahara from 1884 all the way until 1975. Throughout most of that time period, Morocco (and Mauritania to a less extent) laid claim to that territory. Right before Franco’s death and after the massive Moroccan public demonstrations against Spanish colonization known as the Green March, Spain finally relinquished its control over the area. The land was then divided between Morocco and Mauritania, but after pressure from the Algerian funded and based Polisario (a pro-Sahrawi rebel group), Mauritania abandoned its portion of the land. In 1991, the U.N. created MINURSO to enable a cease fire between the Polisario and Morocco and to allow for an eventual referendum on the sovereignty over the territory. That referendum has yet to occur, and Western Sahara remains fully under Moroccan control, with a majority of its residents now hailing from the rest of Morocco.
Flash forward to November 2009. The pro-Sahwari human rights activist, Haidar Aminatu, was traveling to the Western Saharan city, Laayoune, and, according to Morocco, refused to enter with her Moroccan passport and insisted that her nationality be listed as Sahwari. As one can imagine, the Moroccan authorities denied her entry. She was then flown to the Canary Islands, sans papers, where she has refused to leave the airport until she is permitted to take another flight to Laayoune and has been on a hunger strike ever since. The Spanish government is now left in the middle of a game of wills between its neighbor and former colony, Morocco, and the human rights activist that the Spanish left is enamored with.
Then today, a group of Spanish actors and labor union politicians – including Pedro Almodóvar, Pilar Bardem, Ruth Gabriel, Juan Diego, Aitana Sánchez Gijón and Juan Diego Botto, – sent an email to Spanish King Juan Carlos requesting his intervention in favor of Haidar Aminatu.
For the most part, the Spanish side against the Moroccan government and in favor of Sahwari independence (whereas the U.S. government sides with Morocco). Not only was Western Sahara Spain’s last colony (Ceuta and Melilla not under discussion here), Spanish colonization of Morocco was also uniquely tied to the Franco regime; Franco had been the Commander of the Army of Africa which played a key role in the Spanish Civil War. On the other hand, for the Moroccans the Green March and the independence of the territory from Spain have become important historic assertions of pride, unity and sovereignty in the Moroccan national psyche.
It is ironic then that a group of pseudo-intellectual Spanish celebrities are so eager to take sides, regardless of all of the historic connotations of their position. What does Western Sahara have to do with them anyways? Other than being a vestige of Spain’s colonial and Franquista past.