"There is no economic activity in Western Sahara"

In this video, recorded 28 september 2009, the former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, claims that there is currently no plunder of Western Sahara - since there is "no economic activity" taking place there. He also claims that the area used to be part of Morocco before the occupation in 1975.

Published 20 October 09

Gonzalez is the longest-serving Prime Minister of Spain, after having served four successive mandates from 1982 to 1996. 

During this period Spain remained a major trading partner with Moroccan interests in Western Sahara. It was also under this period that Spain managed to bring its controversial Moroccan fisheries cooperation in the occupied territories into the EU. The fisheries and phosphates industries in the occupied territories of Western Sahara amount to billions of euros annually. Much of it is due to Spanish interests. But Mr. Gonzalez seems to be of a different view.

In a conference in Madrid on 28 september, the former Spanish Prime Minister showed his understanding to the Moroccan position in the conflict over Western Sahara. He supported the Moroccan claims to the territory, speaking against the crystal clear opinion from the International court of justice from 1975, which ruled out all historical sovereignty ties between Morocco and Western Sahara. 

He furthermore, rather erroneously, claimed that there are "no plundering of resources [in Western Sahara] because there is no economic activity going on there". 

His statements are in stark contrast to his position 1976. The photos in the video to the right shows Mr. Gonzalez visiting the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria few months after the refugee's escape from the Morocan invasion. He promised to help the Sahrawi people. 

Since then, tens or even hundreds of thousands of Moroccans have moved in to the occupied territories. A large part of them works for the fisheries sector, serving for Spanish firms. 

Gonzalez functions today as an advisor to the EU, through the "Reflection Group on the Future of Europe", established by the European Council. Considering Mr. Gonzalez outspoken support for the Moroccan position in the occupation, Western Sahara Resource Watch on 19 October invited Gonzalez to step out of the group

Here is a translation of the talk

In particular, Mr. Gonzalez in the Sahara issue, there are many Spanish and French companies are plundering the resources of the Sahara. Spain is not doing anything about it. You, in a momenet, supported wholeheartedly the Sahara with a joy and exuberance that they were commendable, and suddenly, from day to night, I do not know what happened but you do not support and is now going to Morocco in promoting sports games of I do not know what...

Morocco is a country that tortures and this must be taken into account. The Saharawi population is being tortured. Are being tortured in all places that there are dictators, but in this issue you have more responsibility than in Kashmir, where India is a "democracy" are also tortured. Thank you.

Felipe González answer:
In the Sahara issue, that touches with special sensibility, I must say I do not know where is the plundering of resources that is ruining the Sahara. Because there really is no economic activity in the Sahara. No, nothing ... well, there is quite marginal on the underlying wealth of the Sahara.

Morocco, a country for which I have sympathy ... and I owe nothing to Morocco, nothing against the nonsense they say. Among other things, because in life everything is relative, the country with the largest area of freedoms that I know, in the Arabic world, is Morocco. It's all relative, but it has the greatest area of freedoms. So when the disqualification of Morocco tone up: Torture, tyranny, I dont know what else ... I say: "Respect of what? Because in the Arabic world does not know any more space for freedoms. Including Wester Sahara authorities, simply said, among whom I still have enough friends. I know the Sahara problem. I discussed with Sahrawi and Moroccan authorities.

If he really had a hypothetical referendum, in the case, one day agree on the census, which will not happen for either of the two sides, who really won Morocco's international legitimization would say it is rigged . And if you really won the Saharawi people would never agree Morocco. Then this is what is called a "draw infinity." That no solution. Within the "draw infinity" is a "tripod" that is Algeria. You don´t know what to do with the "draw infinity." I knew the Algeria of the early stages of Boumedienne who said, when Spain defended it, everybody defend it, the self-determination in Western Sahara ... in the first talks with Boumedienne, he said it was not a problem of self-determination but of decolonization .

Something change in Algeria, I could explain it, but is too long to move from a problem of decolonization, one of Self-Determination. So we are in three parts.

Also with the huge mistakes of Moroccan policy towards the region. But there is something I wanted to correct: No plundering of resources because there is no economic activity. No!

It is a problem as well, which I do not want to forget. More than 3% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has gone to maintain the Sahara conflict for 35 years. If you think the average growth in Spain in the last 35 years is 3% of GDP can imagine that Morocco has buried 3 percentage points more than the Spanish average growth over the past 35 years, to the maintenance of that war. Not with the Saharawi people, who are the visible face. The other side no arms visible effort is the neighbor. It's a shame that Algeria and Morocco are the only border that is closed, in the world. Even the two Koreas have steps. The only closed in the world! And yet we speak of the Arabic Maghreb Union, which should resolve, which I totally agree, a strong Saharan autonomy that allowed them to be-something that many do not know, what has historically been-but nobody has shown: Historically were once part of the Maghreb, a part of the Maghreb, with special rights in relation to the sultanate of Morocco.

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