Campesino Movement Meets the New Boss?

by April Howard, Upside Down World

A conflict between the Bolivian military and coca growers led to the death of two coca growers on the morning of September 29. The confrontation marks an unanticipated turn of events under the administration of President Evo Morales.

Morales is a long-time leader of a coca grower union in the Chapare region and stated enemy of violent eradication of the crop. He campaigned on negotiated eradication and legalization of coca.

Historically, the US-led War on Drugs has involved the militarization of Bolivia’s coca-growing areas, purportedly to prevent the production of cocaine. Such operations have involved forced eradication of crops, often resulting in egregious violations of human rights. The coca leaf is part of traditional indigenous culture in Bolivia, and while some of the leaf does become cocaine, much of it is consumed nationally in traditional and religious practices. In many ways, Morales’ rise to power is based on his experience as the president of the Six Federations coca growers’ union, a position which he still holds. In a recent event in the city of Santa Cruz, Morales himself admitted that “the coca leaf made me president.”

The unions and the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Morales’ political party, were founded during pro-US presidencies as instruments of resistance against the War on Drugs. They focused on protecting the coca growers’ rights to produce the leaf in peace. Now, however, not only is the history of violent eradication repeating itself with Morales on other side of negotiating table, but the government’s details of the September deaths are vague and cloaked in rhetoric. There is a frightening irony in the way that this operation was carried out: without negotiated eradication, but with the use of military force and the familiar rhetoric of the War on Drugs.

The coca growers, Ramber Guzmán Zambrana, 24, and Celestino Ricaldis, 23, were killed by Bolivian police and military eradication forces, the Joint Task Force (Fuerzas de Tarea Conjunta, or FTC), in Carrasco National Park in the Yungas de Vandiola region. Both the farmers and the land where they planted coca fall outside of the territory of the Six Federations of unionized coca growers with which the government usually negotiates. So far, details of the event from coca growers and the military are contradictory, and human rights leaders in Bolivia are calling for a full investigation.

Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network (AIN) was in the area when the event was reported. According to Ledebur, the tragedy highlights the need for dialogue and negotiated solutions between eradication officials and coca growers, instead of the use of the military. She cites the case as a continuation of violent conflicts between coca growers and eradication forces in remote areas, which have historically been under-investigated, leading to impunity for soldiers who have killed farmers. Ledebur is concerned about the lack of clear detail regarding the circumstances of the situation, and emphasizes the need for more concrete information than that provided by the military.

The AIN is especially concerned that the government is characterizing the coca growers as externally influenced and involved in trafficking. “This is not a problem of narcotrafficking,” Ledebur stated, “this is a problem of subsistence farmers trying to survive.”

Contradictory Accounts

According to government reports, a military contingent was sent by the government to eradicate illegal coca crops in the national park. However, according to coca grower representative Nicanor Churata, the area is a traditional growing area, not a part of the zone where coca growing is prohibited. According to the government, the area is included in an agreement signed with former president Carlos Mesa, in which coca is not allowed to be grown in national parks.

Part of the difficulty in clarifying events is due to the extreme remoteness of the area, which has no roads and is only accessible by foot or helicopter. Many landless subsistence farmers live in remote areas and grow coca as their only plausible cash crop due to the fact that it will not spoil while being transported to markets in the nearest towns. Traditional uses of coca are widespread and transcend class. While miners and farmers chew coca as a source of energy (similar to coffee) and to suppress hunger, coca is also an excellent source of vitamins and is a popular tea. Even the US Embassy’s website suggests using it to cure altitude sickness. However, according to the ministers of defense, Walker San Miguel and Alicia Muñoz, the remoteness of the area means that the coca grown there has no access to markets, and is therefore only being used in the production of cocaine. The defense ministers also claimed that the coca growers were armed by foreign narcotraffickers—a claim denied by coca leader Nicanor Churata.

According to the military reports, between 8 and 9 AM, the eradication contingent was ambushed by 200 coca growers armed with guns and dynamite, and the soldiers shot back in self defense. However, according to Churata, the growers had requested dialogue with the government for the last month, and when they were ignored, they decided to patrol the area to defend their crops. Churata states that the growers were armed only with sticks and stones. His statement is corroborated by local coca grower leader Emilio Caero.

The two coca growers were killed in the initial confrontation, which also left two soldiers, Germán Carlos Chipana Quispe and Eleuterio Ramos, and once citizen, Calixto Policarpio Licona, injured by gunfire. All three were later treated at a clinic in the city of Santa Cruz. In response to the confrontation, the military took coca grower Romy Monzón Saire hostage, as well as two other men and a woman. Coca growers took two soldiers and nine police hostage. The coca growers sent a message to the military leaders requesting that troops be withdrawn until a dialogue could be arranged.

Hostage Exchange

At 7 PM that evening, Arsenio Ocampo, a human rights representative in Chimoré negotiated the release of the military and police hostages in exchange for the bodies of the two coca growers who were killed, as well as the four hostage coca growers. A forensic doctor who accompanied Ocampo examined the bodies and stated that the dead men were shot with large caliber bullets, not pellets—which brings the intent of the military operation into question, as pellets would have been a more appropriate tool for crowd control. The coca growers kept their hostages’ guns, which they say they will return when one of the hostages taken by the military, currently in a hospital in Santa Cruz, is released.

Since the incident, the coca growers have been asking the government for help transporting the bodies of the two men who were killed to the town of Totora, where their families were. Due to the decomposition of the bodies, and lack of response, the men were buried in one of the communities. A helicopter did come to transport two injured coca growers to a clinic.

Marginalization and Lack of Recognition

Since the event, Morales has not indicated any likelihood of real negotiation with the coca growers in the park, maintaining that they and their crops are illegal. As of October 2, the government proposed to dialogue with five groups of coca growers to discuss the confrontation, but also plans to continue with the eradication of 1,110 acres of coca and 1,750 illegal settlements in the national park.

In a meeting on September 30, with the chief of state, the vice-minister of social defense, Felipe Cáceres, said: “Their hands won’t tremble or flutter in making sure that the law rules in Carrasco National Park, a protected area, where coca cannot be grown or cocaine made.” Cáceres also stated that the law would not be negotiated with the coca growers, who he called “narcotraffickers” and their “peons.” He emphasized the government perspective that the squatters and coca growers are illegal, and that the armed forces would continue to be used in eradication following the government’s strategy in natural parks, where the policy is “zero cocaine.”

This is an abrupt change in vocabulary from the administration of a president who campaigned with the coca-positive slogan “Coca Yes, Cocaine No.” As a candidate, Morales promised non-violent, negotiated eradication that, when possible, would be carried out by growers themselves.

Morales met with the representatives of the Six Federations on October 3. At the meeting, Morales proposed the creation of a tax on legal coca plots. The revenue raised by the tax would ostensibly be a move against the US government, by showing the international community that the coca leaf is a legitimate medium of support for the national treasury. Morales also warned growers against planting more than the legal limit, a cato (40 square meters).

The deaths in the national park were addressed at Morales’ meeting with the Six Federations, but the discussion centered on protecting the legitimacy of “legal” coca production in comparison to non-unionized growers in places such as the park. The Six Federation union leaders, who are not affected by the continued eradication in national parks, resolved to “support the politics of the fight against narcotrafficking and the control of the government our friend Evo Morales over coca plantations,” according coca leader Asterio Romero. “We will not permit more plantations in national parks and we will add ourselves to the eradication efforts made by the army and the police.”

The president of Bolivia’s Permanent Assembly of Human Rights, Guillermo Vilela, said that his institution would send a letter to defense minister Alicia Muñoz requesting clarification of the situation. Waldo Albarracín, Defender of the People, an office created to investigate human rights abuses, has said that he will request an investigation, but reportedly has taken no steps to investigate the situation himself. The Andean Information Network is forthcoming with a more detailed report on the incident.

Politics have provided citizens all over the world with too many examples of populist candidates who come to office only to turn on their most faithful followers. The government of Evo Morales does indeed need to convince the world that coca is a legitimate crop, with much more to offer than an illegal drug. However, military violence against citizens excused by anti-drug rhetoric is only the continuation of a failed US policy. It is not the creative and nonviolent approach that will bring peace to the region and convince the international community to decriminalize the leaf that put Morales in office in the first place.


April Howard is an editor at and is currently based in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

This story first appeared Oct. 3 on Upside Down World


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Central America’s Last Stand Against CAFTA

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Oct. 23 and 24, an estimated 75,000 Costa Ricans from all sectors of society took part in a mobilization against the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), commonly referred to throughout the region as the Free Trade Treaty (TLC in Spanish). The two-day protest, called by the National Coordinating Committee of Struggle Against the TLC and numerous grassroots and labor organizations, included peaceful marches, road blockades, distribution of informational leaflets and other decentralized actions in all of the country’s provinces. Some public services—including schools and some non-emergency medical appointments—were shut down with strikes as part of the mobilization.

In San Jose, between 7,000 and 10,000 demonstrators marched to the Congress on Oct. 24 to demand that the legislature immediately withdraw consideration of the TLC and of a series of proposed measures linked to the trade pact, including the privatization of telecommunications, electricity and insurance. Costa Rica is the only nation included in DR-CAFTA which has not yet ratified the treaty.

The Human Rights Commission (CODEHU) and the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) of Costa Rica protested the presence of armed officers at all the mobilization sites and the use of military helicopters in the province of Limon. The rights groups also reported that a clash between riot police and demonstrators in Santa Rosa de Pocosol, San Carlos, left several civilians hurt. Still, the government of President Oscar Arias did not respond to the Oct. 23-24 mobilization with the same repression seen at other recent protests. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, Oct. 25; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Oct. 25 from EFE)

That repression began May 8, the day Arias took office, when hundreds of riot police, mounted police, canine units and other forces were deployed to stop thousands of demonstrators from protesting his inauguration. On Aug. 16, a similar police operation—with more plainclothes agents—was launched when demonstrators tried to protest Arias’ 100th day in office.

The police response was again disproportionate for Costa Rica’s official Sept. 14-15 independence day celebrations. On Sept. 14, the town of Cartago was completely militarized, and all streets near the official celebration site were barricaded by police, who searched everyone trying to approach. Police harassed local residents, beat up students who tried to hold a peaceful protest, and stopped busloads of demonstrators at police roadblocks on the city’s access highways. Similar tactics were used during the Sept. 15 celebration events in San Jose, and again on Sept. 25 during another official event attended by Arias in San Jose.

On Sept. 26 in the northern city of San Carlos, police surrounded the cathedral where Arias was to take part in a mass. Agents closed off access to the cathedral and subjected local residents trying to attend the mass to humiliating searches, even going through women’s purses. Bishop Angel Sancasimiro was so indignant that he complained to the press and told government officials that if the police barricades weren’t removed, he wouldn’t say the mass. Eventually one of the barricades was removed. (Frentes Comunitarios de Lucha contra el TLC, Sept. 29)

Already angered by the repression, Costa Ricans were further upset by the news, revealed in early October by legislative deputy Oscar Lopez of the Accessibility Without Exclusion Party (PASE), that US weapons manufacturer Raytheon had bought a farm in the area of Paquera, in Puntarenas, with the intention of building a factory. A public outcry ensued as opponents of the TLC argued that the trade pact would pave the way for the manufacturing and trade of weapons in Costa Rica, a country with no army and a longstanding tradition of neutrality.

The outcry deepened when Arias issued a decree regulating weapons production, including heavy weapons and the enrichment of radioactive materials. Because Arias has not managed to satisfy the public with his reasons for issuing the decree, or to convincingly argue that it isn’t related to the trade pact, the decree has intensified popular distrust of the TLC—and of Arias himself, a 1987 Nobel peace laureate who continues to speak internationally in support of disarmament.

Arias has continued to push hard for the TLC, and insists it will be ratified in December or January at the latest—when the year-end vacations make it harder for social movements to mobilize. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, Oct. 25)

Limon Port Strike Ends

In the early hours of Oct. 27, the government of Costa Rica reached an agreement with striking dock workers in the Atlantic coast city of Limon. The government gave up its demand to punish the strikers, and agreed to pay the workers $900,000 owed to them from their 2005 collective bargaining agreement. Representatives of the government and the port unions will return to the table on Oct. 30 to begin discussing the key issue: the “modernization” of the state-controlled Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA). Port workers oppose the planned privatization of the Moin and Aleman docks in Limon; the Caldera docks on the Pacific coast have been operated since August by a private firm backed with Costa Rican and Colombian capital.

The Limon dock workers began a work slowdown in late September, and stepped up the protest to an open-ended all-out strike on Oct. 25. Strikers set up barricades in the city of Limon and clashed with police on Oct. 25. Police arrested four people and used tear gas to clear the barricades. The strike kept at least one cruise ship from docking at the port on Oct. 26. (A.M. Costa Rica, Oct. 27; Teletica, Oct. 26; Diario Extr, Oct. 28; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Oct. 26 from EFE)


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



North Africa’s Forgotten Occupied Territory

by Bill Weinberg, Middle East Policy

Book Review:

Endgame in the Western Sahara:
What Future for Africa’s Last Colony?
by Toby Shelley
Zed Books, London, 2004

After a multi-generation guerilla struggle has become moribund, an intifada breaks out. A colonized Arab people revolt against a western-backed government which occupies their land in defiance of UN resolutions. Thousands have languished in refugee camps since the occupation began. The occupying power has divided the territory with a security wall to contain the resistance and protect settlements. Unemployment and human rights abuses have long been rife. Despair explodes into anger.

Yes, this could be the West Bank. But it could also be a far larger stretch of desert and coastline two thousand miles across North Africa: Morocco-occupied Western Sahara.

Financial Times reporter Toby Shelley’s Endgame in the Western Sahara is the first real study of this obscure conflict in over twenty years. (The last was Tony Hodges’ Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War in 1983.) The timing might prove fortuitous for Shelley, if not necessarily for the Sahrawis, the indigenous inhabitants of the territory.

After two years of calm, a new intifada erupted in Western Sahara in May 2005, and the contested offshore oil exploration zones hold potential to become strategic as global prices remain escalated. But Shelley’s book largely documents how the post-9-11 re-alignments in the Maghreb present new challenges for the Sahrawi.

A more hopeful analogy to Western Sahara is East Timor, and José Ramos Horta, East Timor’s independence leader and Nobel Laureate, writes the introduction to Shelley’s book. In 1975, that same fateful year that Portugal ceded and Indonesia (illegally) annexed East Timor, a similar drama played out in what was then called Spanish Sahara. As Spain withdrew, Morocco and Mauritania illegally divided the territory between them. And (as in East Timor) the anti-colonial rebels continued their guerilla struggle against the new masters. In 1980, Mauritania pulled out, and Morocco’s King Hassan II quickly annexed their portion of the territory. Another ten years of war followed before the Polisario Front guerillas signed a ceasefire, but the promised UN-sponsored referendum on independence for Western Sahara has fallen victim to global power politics. The country remains occupied, divided roughly east-west by the Moroccan army’s sand berms. With South Africa’s 1990 withdrawal from Namibia, Western Sahara is now Africa’s last colony.

Not one country on earth recognizes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara. Some 60 (including, of course, East Timor) recognize the Polisario Front’s exile government. But this hasn’t done the Sahrawis much good.

Since 2001, the UN’s pointman on Western Sahara, former US Secretary of State James Baker, has been pushing various versions of a plan under which Morocco’s settlers in the territory would be able to vote in the referendum. This is unacceptable to Polisario, which wants the vote restricted to the 74,000 native residents counted in the last Spanish census and their descendents. Morocco has named 100,000 applicants to participate in the vote, and views the referendum including an option for independence at all to be an onerous compromise.

Baker is alleged to have told Polisario diplomats in London in 2000 that Western Sahara is “not Kuwait”—the world would launch no massive campaign on behalf of its sovereignty.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Sahrawis remain in a harsh exile at refugee camps around Tindouf, an old caravan town across the Algerian border, in one of the worst parts of the Sahara. Morocco protests that Polisario has been holding hundreds of Moroccan prisoners of war at the camp since the 1970s; the Sahrawi protest that Morocco remains unaccountable on the status of hundreds of “disappeared” from the occupied territory. Morocco exploits the territory’s phosphate mines and fisheries, and has invited international oil companies to chart (not yet drill) in Western Sahara’s claimed offshore zone. The US company Kerr McGee and the French TotalFinaElf have taken the bait, while still claiming “neutrality” in the conflict.

The Polisario Front—especially in its period of war with Morocco in the late ’70s and ’80s—has been sustained by Morocco’s rivalry with Algeria. When the crisis began, Algeria was at least nominally socialist, a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, an OPEC price hawk and symbol of Third World nationalism. Morocco was a conservative monarchy and Cold War ally of Washington and the West. When Sahrawi refugees fled to Algerian territory in 1975, Algiers naturally became Polisario’s sponsor. (They had previously had a friend only in Libya’s Moammar Qadaffi.) So it seems inevitable that Polisario’s fortunes have fallen victim to the recent Morocco-Algeria rapprochement prompted by the shared threat of Islamist militancy—and avidly encouraged by the West.

The rapprochement is by no means complete; it is Morocco which is leading the way into free-trade agreements and “anti-terrorist” cooperation with the US, and the two regional powers remain ostensibly at odds over Western Sahara. But Algeria is now thoroughly post-socialist, and as ideological differences have eroded new interlocking enemies have emerged: the (now somewhat dormant) Islamist guerillas in Algeria, the (increasingly active) Islamist cells and networks in Morocco. Polisario has to an extent outlived its usefulness to Algiers, which has softened its opposition to the Baker plan.

Morocco accused Polisario of being Soviet pawns in Cold War, and now of being in league with Islamist militants. In fact, they seem to be fairly non-ideological ethnic nationalists. Polisario itself turned post-Marxist in ’90s; in its camps at Tindouf, class distinctions, petty crime, the practice of Islam and such once-outmoded traditions as dowries are all growing. Polisario’s followers are demoralized by the stalemate, the state of “no war, no peace.”

Protests in Laayoune, the territory’s capital, in 2003—and again in May 2005—have somewhat reinvigorated the struggle. Morocco likes to claim that Sahrawi protests over civil rights and unemployment are unrelated to independence sentiment, but the 2005 protests began with a small march demanding freedom for detainees and quickly mushroomed into days of overtly pro-independence demonstrations that filled the streets and led to widespread clashes with security forces. The regional political balance, however, remains far less favorable to Sahrawi independence than it was a generation ago.

Shelley is deft at untangling the knot of geo-strategic interests that has bound Western Sahara’s destiny (despite a few minor flubs like naming Clinton’s Defense Secretary William Cohen as a member of the Bush administration). Unfortunately, he provides little and late discussion of the ethnic dimension to the conflict, or the “deep history” that animates it. (This material was given in-depth treatment in Hodges’ long out-of-print work.) We are on page 109 before Shelley mentions Hassaniyya, the Sahrawis’ regional dialect of Arabic, a key wellspring of their identity. We are on page 170 before we are told that Polisario stands for the “Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro,” and we are never told exactly what these entities are. (They were the old Spanish administrative divisions for the colony.) In fact, Shelley leaves the word “popular” out of the title, making the first syllable of “Polisario” mysterious.

Shelley’s non-linear patchwork of the territory’s history begins in 1885, when Ma el-Ainin took up arms to resist the newly-arrived Spanish—a Berber Sufi warrior who fought both the Spanish and French with aid from the Moroccan sultanate. We are given the briefest sketch of the career of this fascinating harbinger of anti-colonial struggle, and even less about the way of life he sought to protect. Shelley recognizes that the conflicts of the region are those of “nation-states attempting to formalise and solidify relationships that, prior to the arbitrary territorial divisions of the colonial era, were malleable, or to express inter-communal relations in terms of territorial sovereignty.” But he tells us little about what those “malleable relationships” were.

In 1975 the World Court, ruling in a case brought by Morocco and Mauritania, found that both had historical links to Western Sahara, but these were insufficient to justify a claim of sovereignty over the territory. There were ties of allegiance between some local tribes and the Moroccan sultanate, but not enough to constitute “exclusive state activity.” Mauritania and Western Sahara had both been part of Bilad Chinguetti—lands loyal to the religious city of Chinguetti in contemporary Mauritania—but this did not constitute a “corporate entity.” Yet neither was pre-colonial Western Sahara terra nullius—land governed by no-one. So Spain’s old claim had also been illegitimate.

The Sahrawis ceased to be nomadic in the colonial era, we are told. One wonders if some remnant nomads persist, or what economic models may be possible for the Sahrawi other than handicrafts for the modest NGO market (which busies many in the Tindouf camps) or selling phosphate and oil rights to multinational corporations.

The heirs of Ma el-Ainin fought on into the 1930s, when they were finally subdued by combined French and Spanish forces. Resistance re-emerged as the struggle for Algerian independence was intensifying in 1958. That year, the French intervened to back up Spanish forces with air power in crushing a rebellion by Sahrawi desert tribes. In 1965, the UN General Assembly called for self-determination for the territory. Later resolutions determined that only native inhabitants should be able to vote (a principle now betrayed by the Baker plan). The 1963 Sand War between Morocco and newly-independent Algeria over Tindouf set the template for the new regional struggle.

In 1973, the Polisario Front launched its guerilla struggle. When Francisco Franco’s death in 1975 precipitated Spain’s pull-out, the hastily-reached “Madrid Accords” sanctified the partition of the territory by Morocco and Mauritania, and in turn precipitated Morocco’s “Green March,” as the invasion of that year was called. Thousands fled to Tindouf as Moroccan forces used napalm and slaughtered livestock to pacify guerilla-loyalist villages. (Hodges informs us, but Shelley does not, that the Madrid Accords were brokered with the aid of Henry Kissinger and the CIA’s Morocco pointman Vernon Walters.) By 1976, the US was responding to Rabat’s requests for increased military aid—although the grisly nature of the Western Sahara campaign prompted Carter to cut off arms shipments, albeit briefly and ineffectively. By 1977, French aircraft were back in the picture—this time pounding Polisario positions on behalf of Rabat. By 1981, the year after Mauritania capitulated to Polisario’s pressure and pulled out, Morocco’s sand berms were under construction.

The war continued until 1990, when Polisario accepted a ceasefire brokered by the Organization for African Unity, calling for the referendum the UN had endorsed twenty-five years earlier to finally take place. But the referendum was delayed time after time, with neither Polisario or Rabat able to agree on terms—and time would appear to be on Rabat’s side. French President Jacques Chirac, welcomed in Algiers for his historic 2003 visit, has adopted the official Moroccan language for Western Sahara: “provinces in the south.”

The vying claims of the post-colonial Maghreb are replete with ironies and hypocrisies Shelley could have had a better time with: Spain demands the return of Gibraltar from the UK, but still maintains the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast. In the slightly farcical 2003 military showdown between Spain and Morocco over a barren patch of rock off Ceuta known to the Moroccans as Leila and the Spanish as Perejil, Morocco accused Spain of colonialism—even while practicing it in Western Sahara. Nearly forgotten are the Canary Islands, Spanish-held homeland of a Berber people just off Western Sahara, which, Shelley briefly notes, saw a “flurry of pro-independence activities” in the 1970s. Algeria, in turn, sponsors the Polisario rebels for its own purposes, while suppressing the national ambitions of its own substantial Amazigh (Berber) minority—something Shelley refers to only obliquely as “unrest in the Kabyle regions.”

One wonders if Shelley’s title is all that apt. Is this long struggle really approaching an “endgame”? In a bid for international legitimacy, Polisario’s exile government, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Shelley tells us, has invited in the Australian oil minnow Fusion to explore the maritime zone it has no real control over. More recently, SADR has announced a new round of licensing for this zone, which has also failed to attract any industry majors.

Especially given Polisario’s post-socialist posture, even their best-case scenario—an independent state—is fraught with risk for the Sahrawi. SADR’s own success in wooing oil majors could ultimately harm (or, as in the case of southern Mexico after the ’70s oil boom, devastate) local fishing economies. Polisario’s own repression of protests in the Tindouf camps in 1988 also points to potential post-independence challenges. So does the fact that Polisario’s longtime leader Mohammed Abdelaziz is likewise president of the SADR, an echo of Yasser Arafat’s dual role as PLO chairman and Palestinian Authority president. Shelley’s final sentence warns: “In the case of a negotiated return as part of a peace process that led to independence, those who worked for civil rights under occupation would have to ensure their values were nourished in a Sahrawi state.”

Only if the struggle in Western Sahara is somehow brought to the world’s conscience is there much chance that the Sahrawi will have the opportunity to face this challenge any time soon. And even that necessary start will likely prove insufficient. Widespread media attention hasn’t done the Palestinians much good either.


This review originally appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of Middle East Policy

See also:

“Oil and Occupation in Western Sahara”
by Jacob Mundy
WW4 REPORT #113, September 2005

From our weblog:

“George Galloway betrays Western Sahara”
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 19, 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution


James Bond wimps out

From the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), Oct. 30: London — James Bond actor Daniel Craig voted against plans to have suicide bombers in the new movie “Casino Royale” because that would anger Muslims. According to, Craig asked producers to… Read moreJames Bond wimps out


Marseille: intifada redux

From AP, Oct. 30: MARSEILLE — France’s interior minister sent riot police to patrol the southern port city of Marseille yesterday after a group of marauding teenagers torched a bus, gravely burning a young woman. French police braced for violence… Read moreMarseille: intifada redux