"We want our
right to independence to be respected"
• Interview with
Malainine Etkana, ambassador of the Sahrawi Arab
Democratic Republic (SADR) in Cuba
MORE than 37 years have passed since
Morocco invaded Western Sahara. Its colonization
continues in spite of negotiations and United
Nations resolutions. In a climate of international
and regional tensions in North Africa, the Polisario
Front held its 8th Congress last December. Malainine
Etkana, SADR ambassador to Cuba, gave an interview
to Granma about his people’s conflict
What were the particularities of
this 8th Congress?
This Congress took place at a very
complex juncture at the international and regional
levels, above all in relation to what has been
called the Arab Spring.
More than 2,200 Sahrawi delegates
and close to 300 foreigners, including of course a
Cuban delegation participated. There was very
serious debate and we came out of it with a lot of
There are a number of issues which
have been given priority for the next three years.
In the first place, to strengthen and support the
Sahrawi army, given that the hoped for negotiations
have not ended. We consider that we are still a
country at war, because part of our territory is
occupied by Morocco. Because of that, having an army
in place is fundamental.
It was also decided to improve the
situation of Sahrawi citizens in the camps, to
strengthen institutions and improve certain social
indicators such as health.
The other priority is to support and
strengthen what we call the peaceful Intifada in the
occupied territories. And, speaking of this, this
8th Congress was distinguished by the participation
of 50 Sahrawi activists from the occupied
territories. That never happened before because the
occupation forces prevented it. Now, after a long
struggle, we have succeeded in having the Intifada
When you talk about the peaceful
Intifada, what exactly is that?
To the peaceful Intifada in the
occupied territories of Western Sahara. Now that
weapons have been laid aside, we are confronting the
enemy, the occupiers, with banners, slogans,
protests. The 50 members I was talking about have
returned to the occupied territories without the
Moroccans being able to prevent them doing so, and
are already on a tour to inform all our population
of the Congress results.
The Intifada is growing stronger.
And last year Sahrawis were able to carry banners in
the streets, demonstrate, write pro-independence
slogans. We believe that these are important steps
toward attaining our total sovereignty.
One of the things that the Congress
did was to send a letter to UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-Moon demanding an immediate end to the plundering
of Western Sahara’s natural resources…
Yes, that was one of the messages.
The Congress sent a message to Ban Ki-Moon, members
of the Security Council and the new president of the
Spanish government, given that Spain continues
having an important responsibility in this conflict.
A message was also sent to the
Moroccan people, who do not have to follow their
government in this policy of occupation. We are not
against Moroccans, a neighboring people, a sister
people. We only want our right to independence to be
You were talking about the case of
Spain. It is known that Zapatero openly aligned
himself with Morocco. Is any change in this position
anticipated with the new Spanish government?
Yes, lamentably the Spanish
Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) played a highly
negative role, joining the position of France. That
contributed to Morocco’s lack of will to reach an
agreement with the Sahrawis.
As it is known, we are taking part
in a series of meetings with Morocco. The next one
is scheduled for the first week of February under
the auspices of the UN. But up until now Morocco
We are only asking that the Sahrawi
people be allowed to exercise their right to self-determination
via a free referendum, so that the Sahrawis
themselves can say whether they want to be Moroccan
or if they want to be independent. We are already a
state recognized by more than 80 countries.
We hope that the Partido Popular (People's
Power) will play a positive role. We have immense
solidarity in Spain, not only in the People's Power
but also within the PSOE. Our problem was only with
the PSOE leadership.
Concretely, what can Spain do to
help solve the conflict? Put pressure on Morocco?
Yes, it could pressure Morocco given
that there are many common interests. Put pressure
on Morocco to let the Sahrawis organize a referendum,
in which to vote for a number of options:
independence, integrity or autonomy. We are prepared
to accept any one of these three.
But Morocco is refusing, supported
by the Western powers, above all France. That is why
we are hoping that the new Spanish government will
support us. The people of Spain are with us. We have
a great solidarity movement in that country. We have
thousands of children who have gone on peace
vacations to Spain, welcomed by Spanish families.
We know that Spain has interests in
the region, but as it now also has relations with
Morocco, it could have them with an independent
In the case of France, why this
unconditional support for Morocco? What is its
It’s a very long history. France
considers that this region belongs to it, for being
a former colony of Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.
The Sahrawi Republic is in the middle and we were
the only people colonized by Spain. The Algerian
Revolution got rid of France by force, but it
continues to believe that this region is under its
Morocco is a monarchy, a highly
reactionary country, allied to the West. France has
always been behind Morocco’s expansionist policy in
the Western Sahara.
And the rest of the European Union,
does it have a position similar to that of France?
No, there are different positions,
but France is in the vanguard of negative positions
against the Sahrawis, and because our cause is
always discussed at the Security Council level,
France opposes it.
For example, when the brutal
Moroccan intervention in the Sahrawi camp in Aaiún
took place, France was against any condemnation of
the human rights violations committed by Morocco.
For that reason, when we confront
Morocco we are confronting a French policy. Moreover,
the Moroccan monarchy is also supported by some of
the Arab Gulf countries.
In the case of the United States,
what is its position?
Well, in the case of the United
States there is nothing positive either. We can’t
say that it is like France, but it does not have a
very clear position in terms of defending the rights
of the Sahrawi people.
We have support from the rest of the
international community. The Sahrawi Republic is a
member of the African Union, we have embassies in
many countries, particularly throughout the Latin
America continent, with which we have many links,
above all cultural ones. We are the only Arab
country to speak Spanish as a second language, and
the second in Africa after Equatorial Guinea. There
are solidarity movements on all continents with the
Sahrawi cause, which is a just cause, a people who
are fighting for their independence. We have had
more than 37 years of struggle against a reactionary
monarchy which obeys the West, imperialism, and is
working against freedom.
In your opinion, is there any
possibility of Morocco accepting the referendum?
We are still following the
negotiation process. We are sure that the day of our
independence will come. Morocco will have to obey
the will of the Sahrawis because it is a right. The
longer the conflict lasts, the more the people will
suffer, including the Moroccan people. Social and
economic problems in Morocco are being left aside
because they say there is a national problem, and
that is a lie on the part of the Moroccan monarchy.
I am convinced that one day they will have to obey
the international community and allow the Sahrawis
to decide, as has happened in the case of other
How do the Sahrawis live in the
We have four camps, occupied
communities. Aaiún, the capital of the Sahrawi
people, Smara, Ausser and Dajla. Within the camps,
the Sahrawis organized their institutions, as if
they were liberated provinces. Living standards in
the camps are established via Sahrawi state
institutions. We are experiencing a somewhat
difficult situation because the camps are in a
region called Tinduf, which is part of Algerian
territory, because we have liberated territories but
are still at war, and we have the experience of some
years ago when the Moroccan leadership bombed the
camps, the liberated territories. So now, the camps
in which children and the sick live are in Tinduf,
where at least there is a certain security, so that
these Sahrawis can freely engage in work…
How are the events which took place
last year in North Africa affecting the SADR?
It is a fact that, because we live
in this region, in one way or another there are
repercussions for us. Above all what took place in
Libya, where there was a foreign intervention.
Before I came to Cuba, I was the ambassador in Libya,
I knew the country very well; we also received aid
from that country. We had close to 1,000 students
there before what took place and we had to pull them
out when the intervention began. Terrorist groups
have been able to gain access to weapons and,
moreover, this is a desert area in which these
groups move freely, and that is of concern to us.
That is why the Congress final
declaration reflects the disposition of the Sahrawi
Republic to confront any movement which could foment
instability in our region, and we are prepared to
cooperate with all countries with which we share
borders to confront this new situation.
Do you believe that that the
conflict can still be resolved via diplomatic
channels? Or will you have to take up the armed
struggle once more?
There was extensive discussion in
Congress on this subject. The new Sahrawi
generations are calling for armed struggle. There
has been an arms freeze since 1991, I am not saying
We are prepared to take up arms once
more at any point if we do not attain our legitimate
right to self-determination and independence. But we
are still optimistic. We have the hope of reaching
agreement, because war is definitely not beneficial
for anyone, neither for Morocco, nor for Sahara, nor
for the region.
We are convinced that we are going
to obtain our independence, full rights.
I would like to take advantage at
this point to thank Cuba for its support for the
Sahrawis; thousands of Sahrawi students have
graduated here. We have a Cuban medical brigade
working in our country. Cuba recently donated 530
tons of sugar for Sahrawi refugees. The most
important aspect is political support in all
international forums, at the level of the UN.
We express our thanks to Fidel
Castro, to Raúl Castro, President of the Councils of
State and Ministers, and all the Cuban people. We
join all the peoples who are calling for the
liberation of the Five and we condemn the U.S.
blockade of Cuba. As Sahrawis we carry Cuba in our