Alisalem Babeit is a representative of the Polisario Front in Cantabria state of Spain and is one of the many Sahrawis who hold that the war they are waging against the Moroccan monarchy is just, as it has left their people no other choice.
For years Sahrawis have been wanting a referendum for recgnition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, but neither Spain, nor France nor the United Nations have collaborated for that, hence now only weapons speak.
Carlos Aznárez and María Torrellas interviewed Alisalem for Resumen Latinoamericano and Telesur.
Can you give us a picture of the current state of the war between the Polisario Front and Morocco?
After so many provocations by Morocco and the breaking of the cease-fire by that country, while the UN mission continued to look the other way, the Sahrawi President Brahim Galli issued a decree and from then on they began to carry out regular attacks. That was almost two years ago and today this struggle continues.
Of course, neither Morocco nor its allies are interested in making this visible. Spain tried to send a delegation of journalists, so that they would be the first, after a year, to bring to light the fact that there is a war.
A war with all its consequences?
There is a real war, it exists, every day our fighters are attacking strategic points of the enemy, both to the south and to the north, this appears every day in our press with military balance sheets. The war is there although Morocco tries to hide it, together with its lackey media. It exists, there are daily casualties, there are attacks in areas where they have concentrated a greater number of bases and troops. They are subjected to daily bombardments, to artillery attacks and for the moment no major operation has been carried out, but with time our military strategists will surely know how and when to do it. This is in their hands.
Regarding information, our enemies try to deny it, practically all the western media neither want to mention it nor mention what is really going on. The war is a fact, if someone would like to prove it with evidence, they can come to the camps and the Polisario will take them to the front to see it and document it. As it was done with the delegation that left Madrid with our central delegation.
There is an issue that is not clear to me in this war: Morocco has airplanes, helicopters, everything that the Polisario Front does not have, how do they manage to evade the military air offensive, how do they manage to move in the desert in front of this type of objectively superior weaponry?
Our guerrillas, our fighters are experts in this geographical environment, but Morocco only attacks civilians, the drones are used against civilians. They rarely attacked areas where we did not have anti-aircraft defense, so we have had casualties because they were outside the defense zone of our army. But we do have good anti-aircraft defense, so far they have attacked the border with Mauritania, causing many civilian casualties.
Our troops are safe because they are self-defense and they have their defense to avoid those attacks, however, Morocco attacks Sahrawi civilians and they have also attacked Mauritanians and Algerians. They have attacked Algerian trucks, they have burned the trucks of civilians who were traders, but in our area, next to the wall, so far, they have not been able to attack our army units. That is why our army moves and controls to attack, when and where.
Has the Polisario Front ever thought of taking the war inside Morocco, and moreover, how is this war experienced in the occupied Saharawi areas, such as El Aaiún and others like it?
I can’t really answer you about going into the interior, because it is in the hands of the military strategists, and that is decided by the Saharawi government. But it is not impossible. They have done it in the past, they are capable of doing it, the wall does not prevent the penetration of the Sahrawi soldiers, of the guerrillas. Respect of the Sahrawi citizens in the occupied zone, the way to resist, as you have seen the case of Sultana Khaya who has been locked up for more than 500 days in her own house.
There have been other cases where they are threatened, imprisoned, and despite this, they always find ways to demonstrate against what they are doing to them, through some media and in the demonstrations that take place in the streets. There is an organized resistance in the interior, and there are activists who communicate the things that are being done, through some journalists who pass us the information of the demonstrations and demands. But once there is contact with delegations coming from abroad, this degree of resistance has always been expressed through witnesses.
There is the case of the Americans who were with Sultana, who saw with their own eyes what was happening to her, and Sultana Khaya is one of the thousands of cases that are happening. She was more visible to the world of activism, of human rights, but there are many similar cases, including others who are imprisoned just for expressing that they are Sahrawi, and that is the condemnation that our people live in the occupied zone.
Let’s talk a little bit about the refugee camps, and we will explain that the exodus from the Sahrawi territories, from Western Sahara to Mauritania and Algeria began many years ago, when these camps were formed.
Then there was a pause in the war waiting for a UN referendum that never happened, and now there is war again. We know the situation is difficult after the pandemic, after the borders were closed.
The situation in the camps is difficult because there is a lack of food and medicine. After the opening of the borders we started to recover a little, but there is really a lot of shortage, when the war starts, the attitude changes, the movement changes, absolutely everything changes. Now we are in a war scenario, therefore, terror returns to our women, the men are going to the front and that is the situation, we are going back to the years of the beginning of the exile.
Of course, now women are playing a fundamental role in the camps, in food distribution, water distribution, disease control, since there is a sanitary commission and they have been reactivated and they are the ones who take all the steps related to the camp.
As in the 80’s when the war was going on?
Yes, we are back to the situation of the 80’s, there is a kind of national alert, everybody is prepared for the war.
How has the decision of the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez to leave aside the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and return to carnal relations with Morocco had an impact?
The first step taken by the Polisario Front was to break off relations with the current government of Spain. That is to say they have broken, they made a break with international law. That is to say, Sánchez has turned his back on international law and with all the nerve in the world he starts talking about Ukraine, he talks about international law, that Ukraine needs weapons to defend itself. However, in our case, they sell arms to Morocco, they equip Morocco and it is an absolute hypocrisy, it is the most hypocritical and cynical politician of the policies of the Spanish State at the present time.
Now, has this had any negative repercussions on the solidarity groups that are active in Spain?
No, there has been a reaction of the population against what the government has done, even the two chambers are against what Pedro Sánchez has proposed, because he did not consult his party or the chambers. The Upper House and the Lower House, the Senate and the Congress, were not even consulted. Therefore, it is a unipersonal, unilateral decision and it will have consequences. The same is true of Algeria’s reaction: there was a twinning agreement in favor of Spain, as long as international law is respected. When they broke off, when they turned their backs on international law, Algeria froze all relations, because this agreement is based on international law. Of course, right now they are paying the price for having turned their back on international law, everyone is criticizing them, all the parties, all the autonomous communities, the whole solidarity movement, and they are between a rock and a hard place. But Sánchez has not reacted, as it is said by many media, it is not known why he has taken this bad stance.
There is a constant blackmail by Morocco to open or close the door to the arrival of migrants to Spain. Recently, very serious events occurred in Merilla. I would like you to give us a reflection on what happened there.
This is not new for Morocco, and it has been doing it for many years, as long as the Spanish government gives them something, they slow down, when they receive subsidies, they slow down, when they are supported with weapons, they slow down a little, but then they launch. It is a way of colonizing their own subjects, as I do not call them citizens. For all Moroccans the king is their owner and many people do not understand that, they make a royal contract for the Moroccan royal house, they belong as property to the king of Morocco, he commands them, he orders them, he does and undoes whatever he wants and there is no rule or law that prevents him from doing that.
Therefore, if a feudal society is guided by that, you have to pay the consequences of dealing with it. Therefore, the Spanish State has to pay that bill. If it does not, Morocco sends to the Canary Islands, as it happened in 2020, more than 20,000 migrants, people with new passports. It was an intentional fact, after Trump’s statement it was the first threat, then, when our president Galli arrived in Spain to be treated for COVID, they started to accuse Spain of receiving the leader of the Polisario, that is the usual blackmail. More immigrants, that solves the problem for them as a country, to send and take out people who then revert in wealth for them, money that comes from migrant labor in Europe.
Who is responsible for the recent massacre in Melilla, Morocco or Spain, or both?
Both countries are responsible, that is in exchange for the famous letter of Sánchez, the agreement reached by Sánchez is that they do not send him more immigrants and that was precisely the reaction of both. I can’t tell you in detail how it happened, but an investigation has to be made. It was police from both sides and it was an action against defenseless people, causing the death of more than 30 people. It was a crime against humanity.
Now that the European summer has begun, the humanitarian and solidarity mission that has been carried out since the 1980s is coming back to Spain and the Basque Country. Can you tell us about the objectives of this campaign?
It is a practice that is part of solidarity movements. Since COVID started two summers it could not be done, but this time an effort has been made and despite what happened with the government of Pedro Sánchez regarding the Sahara issue, the publication in the official gazette of the state was delayed. From then on, the visas began to be issued and I believe that this week they are going to arrive.
What does it mean that they come to spend their summers with a family from these lands?
First of all, as we have few means to check the children’s health, they come here and have a medical check-up. Most of the children suffer from eye problems, it is an endemic disease in the desert where we live, and here it can be treated, so they are checked and followed up, they are given glasses, they are also checked if they have any other disease.
There is a control, there is a follow-up throughout the arrival of the children, in the first 15 days, then if they have any disease and it is necessary for them to stay, the treatment is done. If they need annual check-ups, when they return, they also return the following year and stay with their families. We have created bridges between the families. Because living with Spanish families, Christian or not, from another culture, of another color, gives the children a different global vision of the world. Coming from the desert opens their minds in every sense.
You were also telling us that some of the boys and girls who are already teenagers stay to study and then travel to spend the summers in the camps and then spend time with their families and their culture.
Yes, we also do a program the other way around, with the arrival of children from the camps, we organize children who study throughout the year in Spain, and travel to the camps, they are with their biological parents to live in situ the reality of the refugees, they live the lack of water, food, those two months they are there living the reality and that makes them reflect and take advantage when they return, to study well and live up to the expectation of life of the Sahrawis.
Finally, what message would you like to send to Telesur’s audience: what would you tell them about Western Sahara and the struggle for independence from the last colony in Africa?
Indeed, we are the last colony of Africa, the last residue, the scourge of colonialism, but, in spite of that, they don’t want to let us choose our destiny. What we are asking is that people become aware that we Sahrawis want to decide for ourselves. Nobody should decide for us, not Sánchez, not Trump, not anybody, we are the owners of our destiny and we want to choose what suits us. We are a very rich country but we are also a country that appreciates the diversity of peoples. We fight for that diversity, so that they have opportunities and are not pushed into poverty.
We oppose neocolonialism, this neoliberalism that is crushing the peoples, that is creating wars, that has destroyed Iraq and Libya, has tried to destroy Syria, and is crushing the Palestinian people day and night and nobody says anything. They are crushing us, they have forced us into a war, they are forcing us to live in the middle of the desert to see if we let our guard down. But we go on, we are born fighters, we are long-distance runners, we know the ideals of Che and other popular heroes, we carry ideals to which nobody can put a barrier.
They cannot prevent us from moving forward and achieving our goal, which is to live in our independent Sahara, and to help the people who are in the same situation as we are. We want to share our wealth with all those who need it. We are generous by nature, we are hospitable, we are people of the desert.
(Internationalist 360°) by Carlos Aznárez and María Torrellas
Periodista. Director de @ResumenLatino periódico, radio y TV.