During the Cold War, one of the terrorist groups which was created, armed, and trained by the Soviet Union—and in fact was put in the hands of the Castro, Khadfi and Algerian regimes by the Soviet Union and continues to provide arms and training—is what is known as the Polisario Front.
Many people think that the Polisario Front no longer exists because the Soviet Union has fallen. But the reality is that, fundamentally, the Polisario Front has been armed, trained, financed, guided and coordinated by Castro’s Regime, Algeria and Khadfi’s regime in Libya. Yes, the Polisario Front very must exists.
We have here today, as our guests, in addition to members of the Cuban exile community, some individuals who honor us with their presence and have a personal story. Several of them were separated from their families by the Polisario Front and Castro and were taken to Cuba. Something that many people don’t realize is that thousands of children and young people from the Sahara are still in Castro’s Cuba today. They are being indoctrinated and separated from their families. So, this is a story that is very shocking, as well as important, because it’s not only the story of the separation of families, and the destruction that it brings to the families. What is also important, during these times, after September 11, 2001 is that there is a terrorist group, the so-called Polisario Front, which is trying to create an independent state in North Africa to carry out terrorist activities. And this is very important for you to know.”
The other two in their remarks had equally scathing things to say about the Polisario and you can read the full press release on the website of the Moroccan-American Center for Policy (MACP).
Lincon Diaz-Balart, a hard-core conservative Republican from Miami, has been on somewhat of a pro-Morocco anti-Polisario rampage of late. In addition to the above-mentioned press conference, he founded and co-chairs the Congressional Morocco Caucus, he worked for the release of the last of the Moroccan POW’s in Tindouf (for which he received from Rabat the medal of "Commander of the Ouissam Alaouite Order of Morocco"), and he made a statement at a hearing on the Western Sahara of the Subcommittee on Africa of the House’s Committee on International Relations.
Diaz-Balart’s emergence as the House’s most activist Polisario hater appears related to a convergence of his extreme pro-business and anti-castro views. With US Chamber of Commerce ratings of 96%, 95%, and 93% over the last three years, he has been one of the most consistently pro-business members of Congress. He has been cozying up to Morocco since at least 2003 when he formed the Congressional Morocco Caucus to work for passage of the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement which became law in 2004. As a Cuban-American born in Havana with a an aunt once married to Castro and father well-connected to the pre-Castro Batista regime, he has long been one of the most fanatic anti-Castro members of Congress. Moroccan tales of Che Guevara forming the Polisario, of Cuban and communist military support for their “separatist” war against Morocco, and of Sahrawi children separated from their parents and shipped by the Polisario into a life of servitude and forced indoctrination in Cuba all must have found in Diaz-Balart a very receptive audience.
And so, Lincoln Diaz-Balart has had a hard time seeing anything but evil in Cuba’s hosting of Sahrawi students and an easy time regurgitating every bit of propaganda fed him by Rabat and MACP. See his press conference remarks above. In the overblown role he attributes to Cuba in the origins of the Polisario and as a supporter and military supplier in the early years, Diaz-Balart clearly has Cuba on the brain. In the almost 400 pages of Tony Hodges’ classic account of the origins of the crisis, Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War, Cuba is hardly even mentioned. And on his allegations that Cuba continues to supply and train the Polisario, given the current possibility of a return to arms and the persistent rumors about the horrible conditions of the ancient Polisario weaponry, I suspect the Polisario wishes it were so.
Finally, there is the issue of Diaz-Balart’s allegations that Sahrawi from Tindouf are forcibly “separated from their families by the Polisario Front and Castro and … taken to Cuba” for indoctrination and worse. While one can find plenty of anecdotal evidence disproving these stories from Sahrawi students who have returned to Tindouf from Cuba, the definitive debunking of this lie comes from UNHCR, which runs the refugee camps and has looked into the allegations of Cuban abuse. The Refugee Children Coordination Unit of UNHCR in a December 2003 report deals specifically with this issue. It is worth quoting the section on the Sahrawi in its entirety (and I thank Alle for bringing this report to my attention):
In 2001 a new group of 252 Western Saharan refugee minors (all boys between the ages of 12 and 17) arrived in Cuba as part of the programme of educational assistance agreed between the Cuban government and the Polisario Front. As UNHCR’s policy was to provide assistance only to refugee students who were already in Cuba in 1994, as per an agreement with the Cuban Government, funds had not been foreseen to help meet the needs of this group of children. In 2002, the Regional Office in Mexico, undertook a thorough assessment of the situation of above-mentioned group of 252 refugee children, prompted by concern over the separation from their parents. These children’s parents and/or other close relatives are in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria, and their separation took place with the consent of the parents. It was necessary to evaluate whether the best interest of these children was being met by their stay in Cuba, and what it meant for these adolescents to have the opportunity to pursue studies at levels not available in refugee camps. Considering that education and family environment are both main factors when considering the best interest of the child, and taking into account the right of the child to express his/her opinion, it was decided to consult them individually. A survey was performed among all refugee children, which found that they had been explicitly authorized by their parents or guardians to travel on scholarship to Cuba, and that it was the children’s own personal will to continue taking advantage of this opportunity to study in Cuba. A reallocation of funds already approved for assistance to refugees in Cuba was made to contribute to the improvement of the living and health conditions of these refugee children. Refugees have the same opportunities as nationals to continue on to higher education, according to academic achievement. Refugee children are organized in a student’s association and their representatives participate in the school’s administrative council where decisions are made.
The results of this survey are totally consistent with the testimony received by any number of NGO and international organization observers who have visited the camps: given the boredom and limited educational opportunities in the camps, the Sahrawi children overwhelmingly welcome the Cuba experience. As for MACP’s traveling road show of disgruntled Sahrawi who claim to have been separated from their families against their will and subjected to communist indoctrination and abuse by the Cubans, these people are just frauds.
It is sad, pathetic, and morally reprehensible that Lincoln Diaz-Balart is so blinded by his hate of Castro that he feels he must demonize and spread lies about the Polisario for taking advantage of one of the few educational opportunities available to Sahrawi children. If he were really concerned about the children, he might think about working to create opportunities for children from the camps to come and study in the US. From the experience of Sahrawi children who have spent summers in the US as guests of various Christian groups, they love coming here and would undoubtedly be very happy studying here.