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.


  1. My God. It would be funny, if it weren't for the fact that someone, somewhere, actually believes that crap. The Western Sahara question never ceases to erode my faith in humanity.

    And for the record, I'm about as anti-Castro as can be. The sooner the old bastard dies, the better, and among the many good things it'll bring, one is that the Miami lobby may finally stop harrassing bedouin refugees.

  2. Oh, and by the way, there's another report from the UNHCR on the Cuba scholarship program: they conducted a poll of all Sahrawi students in Cuba for the Machel report, and all said they were their of their own free will, to take advantage of the chance to get an education.

    I would post this over at the Mambiwatch blog -- I liked their posts -- but there's some sort of registration hassle I can't get through.

  3. Hi Alle,

    Thanks for the input.

    As a long-time cold warrior, I too have opposed Castro it seems forever and share your anti-Castro sentiments.

    Through my work on the Western Sahara I have discovered, however, that there is a fringe element in the anti-Castro movement that is so fascistic in outlook that I wonder whether they are any better than Castro.

    No matter how bad Castro is, the willingness of some of these people to sacrifice the Sahrawi on the altar of anti-Castroism is just not acceptable.

    Yea all the Cuba scholarship stuff is extremely disconcerting. You'ld think that the UNHCR reports would once and for all put the issue to rest, but the Miami cabal and MACP just keeps making sure it stays around.

  4. Well, cynically, it makes a lot of sense from their point of view. By cooperating, both MACP and these fringe (I hope) anticastroists can demonize their target (Polisario/Cuban gov) at virtually no cost to themselves -- the price is paid by Sahrawi students, and they're of no use to either party.

    I mean, for the Cuban (extremist) lobby to connect Castro to al-Qaida is just too good to be true, and as long as they're preaching to the choir, no one will care that it's pure fantasy. Same with MACP/Morocco: they KNOW that Polisario aren't Communists, or Islamists for that matter, but they'll happily make both accusations anyway -- because, why not? It's not as if they risk being exposed as liars by the powerful Western Saharan self-determination lobby...

  5. Have you guys ever been to a presentation put on by MACP about the Cuba story? I went to one as my initiation into the Western Sahara scene. When I pointed out to the guy running it that UNHCR disagreed, he said, "Well, we think the report was flawed." Huh?

    Nice post, Chasli. Those Mambi-watch posts came out of nowhere, but were extremely satisfying.

  6. yeah, huh. i don't suppose they elaborated on that?

  7. HI Will and Alle,

    Last year I went to one of those National Clergy Council meetings in New Jersey run by Reverend Rob Shenck. Given that Holley was there and that they showed a MACP movie about the Polisario and Cuba, it was clear that it was a MACP event. Who knows who actually paid for the event. I questionned Holley about the blatant falsity of a lot of the stuff, and well he just doesn't care. I also spoke a bit with Schenck. I knew he was a lost cause when he admitted that he had never bothered to place a call to any of the numerous members of the clergy who have actually spent time in the camps and do know something about the situation. All very depressing stuff, but interesting to see in person.

  8. Fun fact about Schenck: he totally rushed Bill Clinton with an aborted fetus. Morocco knows how to pick 'em.

  9. Anonymous10:19 AM

    Did you formerly sell ads for the Forward newspaper?

  10. Anonymous6:30 PM

    Where's your latest posting? The world is waiting.