The Movement Saharawi for Peace (MSP) has inaugurated this Thursday in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria the 'I International Conference for Peace and Security', a conference dedicated exclusively to the search for solutions to improve the situation of the Saharawi people after more than four decades of dispute over Western Sahara.
The lack of progress has prompted this organisation, which was set up barely two years ago, to question the leadership of the Polisario Front, which it accuses of not listening to its demands and arrogating to itself the total representativeness of the Saharawis. There is no room for critical voices, they argue.
A large number of civil society personalities, politicians, academics and specialists in the field are meeting this week in the CICCA cultural centre to propose solutions to the crisis and to listen to the list of demands of those Saharawis who do not share the Polisario's agenda.
More than 40 former leaders of the group, who left the group due to internal disagreements, are taking part in the conference and are part of the panel of speakers.
In the background, the search for peace stands out. A peace that broke down in November 2020 with the violation of the UN-sponsored ceasefire, in force since 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front. Peace is, according to the MSP, the indispensable element to stabilise the region and generate the necessary space to discuss "democracy, multipartyism, justice and concord".
The former Minister of Defence of the Spanish government, José Bono, opened the conference with a positive assessment of the MSP initiative: "When war is so close, we need spaces like this that advocate peace". Today, however, Bono stressed that he is autonomous and "says what he thinks". His words, he assures us, only commit him.
"For me, the most serious of the Saharawis' problems is not so much political, which lies behind the concept of sovereignty, as their well-being", stressed Bono, who wanted to denounce the precarious situation of the Saharawi population living in the Tindouf camps. He cited a recent UNHCR report: "There is a very high percentage of children with anaemia, of young people who cannot go to university, of pregnant women with serious health problems". "Read the report", the former minister insisted.
After devoting a few minutes to describing the historical relations between Madrid and Rabat, with their lights and shadows, Bono affirmed that "Spain is lucky to have Morocco as a neighbour" because it is the most progressive country on the African continent. "The Morocco of today is not the Morocco of 20 years ago", added the former President of the Congress of Deputies, highlighting the reign of Mohammed VI, also in relation to the Arab Spring: "When it broke out, some called on the security forces; Morocco called on the ballot boxes".
But the bulk of his speech focused on the numerous UN resolutions and the stalemate in a dispute that has been going on for 47 years. "The Saharawi people do not need more resolutions, they need solutions", he stressed. The UN no longer speaks of a referendum, but of a consensual political solution. "Morocco wanted Laayoune or Dakhla to be like Fez or Tangiers, while the Polisario wanted an independent state. Both have failed", recalled Bono, who sent a warning to the parties: "If you want to negotiate, you have to be willing to give in".
According to Bono, the Moroccan proposal fulfils this premise. Rabat now advocates offering "broad autonomy" under its sovereignty, something the Polisario Front rejects outright. The former Minister of Defence in the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero explained to those present what Morocco is really proposing: "That the Saharawis should govern themselves". Counting, he added, with "their own parliament, a government elected by the ballot box and an autonomous judicial body".
Bono, who held the presidency of the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha for two decades, even claimed that it was in that position "where he had the most power", bearing in mind that he served for three years as president of the lower house, which made him the third highest authority in the state after the king and the president of the government. "That is the reality", he affirmed.
Bono also welcomed the recent change of position of Pedro Sánchez's government on the Western Sahara dispute: "By defining the Moroccan proposal as the most serious, credible and realistic basis, Spain is going in the same direction as the United Nations and aligning itself with the United States and Germany".
The former Spanish minister, once a staunch supporter of the Polisario Front and its representatives even in judicial instances during Franco's dictatorship, acknowledged that his perspective has changed as a result of recent events, but said he has always had "esteem" for the Saharawi people: "The victims are the Saharawis. They are the ones who suffer the separation and the inequalities of the conflict".