Saturday, April 21, 2007

Polisario, Cuba, & Martian Invaders

Recently an outfit in Florida by the name of the Cuba Transition Project (CTP) of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (University of Miami) has done us a tremendous favor by telling a Polisario tale so outlandish that it reveals the ugly face of Moroccan propaganda for all to see. The April article in this group’s online magazine, Focus on Cuba, titled Western Sahara: Where the Castro Regime Meets Al-Qaeda, would have us believe that, with the US pinned down in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Cuba/Polisario/Al-Qaeda axis has taken shape to conceivably coordinate an offensive against U.S. interests and allied governments in the region, ” -- that region being North Africa. How the CTP manages to put together such an ominous story out of wind, sand, and camel dung is the story of this posting .

The CTP argument goes something like this (all quotes are from the article linked above):

The Polisario hates Morocco. As they put it, “In 1975, Moroccan King Hassan II led the peaceful "Green March" that reclaimed the territory that had historically been part of Morocco.” The “leftist” Polisario, “founded in 1973 as a national liberation movement opposed to Spanish colonial rule in North Africa,” fought a guerrilla war against this reclamation until a cease-fire in 1991. Since then the Polisario has been “confined to the far eastern fringe of Western Sahara.”

Cuba loves the Polisario and vice versa. “Since the 1970s, the Castro regime has been a fervent ally and backer of the POLISARIO Front.” On one hand, “upwards of 2,000 Sahrawis … have been trained in Cuban institutions and today occupy important political, social, administrative and professional positions in the POLISARIO political and military structure.” On the other, “The Cuban government maintains a “brigade” of physicians, advisors, and intelligence operatives within the POLISARIO zone.”

El-Qaeda hates Morocco, all moderate Islamic states, and the United States. Answering a call from Bin Laden henchman, Ayman al-Zawahiri “for 'new Fronts' in North Africa to 'crush the pillars of the Crusader alliance,'” al-Qaeda proxies such as Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb have set up “mobile camps … in the Sahara hinterland for the training of new fighters."

Cuba hates the United States. This needs no explanation.

Out of this strange brew of loves and hates, the CTP, citing Moroccan government sources, concludes that the Polisario is coordinating and cooperating with al-Qaeda. They explain why this makes sense with, “Moroccan Justice Minister Mohamed Bouzoubaa interpreted POLISARIO’s rationale for an alliance with al-Qaeda ‘at all levels’ as a case of cultivating ‘an enemy of an enemy as a friend.’”

And finally the CTP pulls their whole theory together with the following concluding paragraph which I quote in its entirety due to its unparaphrasable eloquence and elegance:

If al-Qaeda and POLISARIO are indeed collaborating against Morocco and other moderate Arab states in North Africa, it is highly unlikely that the POLISARIO leadership would be doing so without the knowledge and acquiescence of Havana. Moreover, the "Cuban brigade" of advisors and intelligence operatives stationed within the POLISARIO zone may be directly or indirectly (via Cuban-trained Sahrawi) supporting al-Qaeda operations and training camps. At the very least, it would be unwise to assume that Cuba’s sophisticated intelligence apparatus is not providing valuable information and guidance to POLISARIO with a tacit consent to pass it on to an enemy (al-Qaeda) of a mutual enemy (the U.S.).

I find this article and indeed this whole exercise of connecting Cuba to al-Qaeda through the Polisario as repulsive for three basic reasons: 1) it doesn’t make any sense, 2) the facts don’t back it up, and 3) it is dishonest.

The basic commonsensical reason why Polisario/al-Qaeda collusion makes no sense is that al-Qaeda hates Algeria as much as or more than it hates Morocco, and Algeria is the Polisario’s best friend and benefactor. Algeria’s support is the sine qua non of Polisario survival. It is interesting that in the article, the CTP’s evidence for al-Qaeda activity in the Maghreb is not some attack in Morocco, but “a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Algeria since December 2006.” As the people over at Mambi Watch (in their wonderful 9-part series titled What’s a Polisario) quite rightly point out, why in the world would the Polisario get in bed with a group (al-Qaeda) dedicated to the overthrow of their main benefactor (Algeria)? And how do you think Algiers would react to news that the Polisario was consorting with al-Qaeda types?

Furthermore, I am not aware of any evidence of contact between al-Qaeda and the Polisario. The Polisario has been openly antagonistic to everything al-Qaeda believes in (and vice versa), and for the CTP to take the word of the Moroccan government on all this without any kind of evidence is laughable.

As far-fetched as al-Qaeda/Poliario cooperation is, a Cuba/al-Qaeda connection is even more so. Why would Cuba want to jeopardize its historical friendship with Algeria by having anything to do with al-Qaeda or its proxies? The CTP writes, “Given Fidel Castro's historic ties to Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Cuban personnel likely enjoy secure access to the area via the Algerian border with Western Sahara.” Let me get this straight. Algeria is allowing Cubans to run around the Sahara to make common cause with Islamic jihadists who are trying to overthrow the Algerian government. A collaboration between the Polisario, Cuba, and Martian invaders would be more believable.

The most disturbing aspect of this article, though, is the thorough lack of any scholarly rigor. The basic failing is that the very serious allegation made here about a Cuba/Polisario/al-Qaeda axis taking shape is based totally on unsubstantiated material from the Moroccan government and its proxies (especially its registered agent in the US, the totally discredited R. M. Holley). Not one bit of evidence is offered to show that either Cuba or the Polisario have ever even met anyone from al-Qaeda. Needless to say, quotes by Moroccan ministers and agents about the Western Sahara hardly rate as evidence, given Morocco’s chronic mendacity regarding the territory .

Another dishonest technique used throughout the article is listing fine-sounding and credible sources and then misinterpreting those sources to fit the authors’ thesis. For example, in their first paragraph which gives historical background material on the Western Sahara, two sources are listed in the notes, one 2007 article from the Economist and a 1999 article from Time Magazine. Now these are decent enough articles from respected magazines. The only problem is that there is nothing in these sources that gives any credence to the CTP contention in the paragraph that the Western Sahara “had historically been part of Morocco.”

Similarly, in trying to make the case that al-Qaeda is setting up shop in the Western Sahara, the CTP informs us that “according to information obtained from an al-Qaeda recruiter arrested in Spain in February, mobile camps have been established in the Sahara hinterland for the training of new fighters.” This startling information is attributed in the notes to: Simon Tisdall, "Al-Qaeda's new front in Africa," Mail & Guardian, 19 February 2007. Checking out Tisdall’s article, we discover that the mobile camps referred to by the al-Qaeda recruiter were located in the “scrub country” of the Sahel, and nowhere near the Western Sahara. This kind of playing around with sources is, to say the least, journalistically dishonest.

After a careful reading and analysis of the article, one can only conclude that the whole Cuba/Polisario/al-Qaeda scare is a sham and a hoax.

The larger story behind this disgraceful article is the well-funded and by-now-well-traveled Moroccan propaganda trail that leads from Rabat through PR, lobbying, and media outfits in Washington D.C. such as Edelman PR, the Moroccan-American Center for Policy, and the Washington Times into the anti-Castro world of Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, law firm Tew-Cardenas LLP, and think tanks such as the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS) in Miami. For anyone interested in the Cuban connection and why this bunch of anti-Castro zealots has such a “thing” about the Polisario Front, I refer you to the above-mentioned series of brilliant articles (What’s a Polisario, Parts 1-9) in Mambi Watch.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Washington Times’ Onedownsmanship on the Western Sahara

It seems that just when you start thinking that media coverage of the Western Sahara crisis can’t get any worse, an article comes along that sets a new standard for dishonesty.

A few weeks ago, a stunningly blatant piece of Moroccan propaganda from the pen of former US ambassador to Morocco, Frederick Vreeland, appeared as an editorial in the New York Times. Vreeland’s piece in support of Morocco’s stillborn autonomy plan certainly raised eyebrows among those who know a thing or two about the issue. It took only a few days for the Times to discover that a company of which Vreeland is chairman had Moroccan government contracts and that he was certainly not some disinterested analyst of the situation. Vreeland was quickly and emphatically discredited.

That fiasco was just starting to recede from memory when last Friday (April 13) the Washington Times (WT), in a rather incredible case of onedownsmanship, came out with an editorial titled “A Solution in the Western Sahara.” I think it is fair to say that this bit of editorial nonsense, also in support of Morocco’s autonomy plan, breaks new ground for Moroccan propaganda.

Truly the WT comes out with stuff that would make even Frederick Vreeland blush. Take the opening sentence: “On Wednesday, the Moroccan government presented the United Nations with a framework for autonomy for the Western Sahara region, taking the first step, which the United Nations has called for repeatedly, toward a political dialogue with its longtime adversary, the Polisario Front.” What is it, let us think, that the UN has been calling for repeatedly. Well if I recollect the UN has for over thirty years repeatedly called for a referendum on independence in the Western Sahara. There has been plenty of political dialogue already between the parties in the 1990’s before, during, and after the 1991 cease-fire agreement, and Morocco has already broken all the agreements resulting from this dialogue. And while the UN recently has indeed been calling for a renewal of talks, it has been careful not to endorse the autonomy plan which is clearly not consistent with international law regarding self-determination. It is just somewhat hard to comprehend how the autonomy proposal is “a first step…toward a political dialogue” when the other party, the Polisario Front, has already categorically refused to join the dialogue and so far the UN refuses to endorse the idea.

It gets even worse. Two paragraphs down from this opening volley we learn that “The terms of the 1991 cease-fire agreement were not fully met until August 2005, when the Polisario, under pressure from the international community -- particularly the United Nations and the United States -- finally released the last 404 Moroccan prisoners of war.” I’m still trying to figure out what this means. Wasn’t the MAIN “term” of the cease-fire agreement the holding of a referendum on independence? Since the last I looked Morocco unilaterally cancelled the referendum process and refuses to discuss it further, it is hard to understand how all the terms of the cease-fire agreement were met in August 2005.

And then we learn, “The heinous conditions the POWs faced, including barbaric torture and forced labor, was a human face on the political struggle, and revealed the true nature of the Polisario Front, which had long portrayed itself as victim.” While the extent of torture and forced labor at the hands of the Polisario is a matter of continuing discussion and debate, there is no doubt about the extent of Moroccan torture and forced labor, not to mention disappearances and murder. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the results of Morocco’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission and any number of Human rights Watch and Amnesty International reports. The true nature of Morocco stares us in the face, and the Washington Times wants to turn the Western Saharans over to these monsters.

Unbelievably, the editorial continues downhill: “Allowing the Sahrawi people to vote on a referendum seems like a simple enough solution, but the Polisario's insistence on restricting the voter lists locked that process into more than six years of effectively fruitless discussion.” Pinning the blame for the scuttling of the referendum on the Polisario just doesn’t stand up to any kind of honest scrutiny. Certainly, the Polisario would have preferred the narrowest possible voter list based on the old Spanish census, which would have unquestionably led to an overwhelming vote for independence; but they compromised several times on this in the hope that it would lead to a vote. The Polisario’s eventual acceptance of the Baker II plan which would have allowed most of the illegal Moroccan settlers (who outnumber the Western Saharans some two or three to one) to vote doesn’t sound to me like “insistence on restricting the voter list.” In fact, it was Morocco’s insistence on EXPANDING the voter list to include many Moroccans with no history of living in the territory that killed the process. And, of course, Morocco’s true colors were revealed when they rejected Baker II. No matter how broad a voter list was forced down the throats of the Polisario, Morocco was just not going to allow a referendum on independence.

The WT continues: “The Moroccan initiative is the first, and to date the only, proposed framework for a political solution to come from either side, and from it the two sides can craft a final agreement.” First of all, we must not forget that back in the 1990s Morocco and the Polisario already agreed on a “framework for a political solution” with the cease-fire agreement and then the Houston Accords. And then the Times conveniently ignores the fact that one day before Morocco brought its autonomy plan to the UN, the Polisario released its own plan -- for holding a referendum and with a special relationship with Morocco should the vote be for independence. Morocco’s initiative is hardly the first and only proposed framework for a political solution.

And the WT goes on: “It preserves Moroccan sovereignty, but gives the Western Sahara sufficient autonomy to become effectively self-governing.” Must I repeat for the umpteenth time that no country on earth, nor the UN, recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, and the International Court of Justice has ruled that Morocco doesn’t and never did have sovereignty. According to international law “sufficient autonomy” just doesn’t cut it.

And on: “The autonomous region would, for instance, have a local legislature that would, in turn, elect an executive, who would be invested by the king.” Yes, “invested by the king,” who was never elected by anyone and can unilaterally dismiss his own Moroccan legislature and cabinet. Some autonomy that would be.

And on: “Resolving this issue is also necessary for the entire Maghreb region to move forward economically.” Oh so true, even though it is not immediately apparent why forcing autonomy down the throats of the Western Saharans is a better way to resolve the issue than to say hold a referendum and allow an independent Western Sahara if they so choose.

And on: “Inasmuch as poverty and dire economic circumstances fuel the recruitment of terrorists, two incidents this week -- one an attack in Algiers claimed by a group that now calls itself al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the other a standoff in Casablanca that ended after three suicide bombers blew themselves up and a fourth was killed by police -- testify to the importance of helping the region.” Again, it seems to me that this is more an argument for holding a referendum on independence than on forcing autonomy on the Western Saharans. Inasmuch as poverty and dire economic circumstances fuel the recruitment of terrorists, giving the Western Sahara its independence and relieving Morocco of the huge financial burden of a highly unpopular military occupation, would go a long way towards improving Morocco’s dire economic circumstances.

The WT begins its conclusion: “The Polisario now needs to reciprocate the Moroccan government's move to the negotiating table.” The Polisario needs to do nothing of the sort. For over thirty years the UN and the world community have been assuring the Western Saharans that they have the right to self-determination (which includes independence) through a referendum. Why should the Polisario engage with Morocco on a plan that defies the UN and international law, and terminates a just struggle on the aggressor’s terms? The WT somehow condemns the Polisario for “continu[ing] to demand a referendum” as though that is what is perpetuating the misery in the region. Hey, come on now – the UN demands a referendum, James Baker wanted a referendum, most of the world is for a referendum, even John Bolton was pro-referendum. Why not just force Morocco to hold a referendum? The WT similarly condemns the Polisario for its threats of “renewed violence.” It seems to me that once the centerpiece of the cease-fire agreement, the holding of a referendum on independence, was taken off the table by Morocco, Rabat was asking for a return to violence. If Rabat tries to unilaterally impose annexation or autonomy without a referendum that includes independence that would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

And finally the editorial ends: “A firm line is required. The United States can make clear to the Polisario that if it cares for the Sahrawi people, it needs to begin serious negotiations.” NO NO NO NO. Negotiations? There is no longer anything left to negotiate here. The US must make clear to Rabat that it just cannot continue defying the UN and international law, and that it must hold a referendum.