Thursday, May 03, 2007

Jose Ramos Horta's advice on helping occupied countries

Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor's prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his work to end Indonesia's occupation of his country, knows about fighting for self-determination. East Timor and Western Sahara have had similar historical trajectories--trajectories that only diverged when East Timor won its independence. Ramos Horta even wrote the preface to Endgame in the Western Sahara.

I was reading a 1996 online chat with Ramos Horta, after he won the Peace Prize but 6 years before East Timor became independent. He was asked how Americans could help East Timor become independent. I think his answer is useful for people interested in the Western Sahara or self-determination anywhere.
"We believe that the key to change is pressure on the Suharto dictatorship of Indonesia. This pressure should come from the key economic partner of Indonesia, i.e. the major Western democracies. To obtain this, a change in policy towards Indonesia is required. That will need continued domestic pressure on governments by their constituents.

Any contributions you can make in terms of campaigns to change your country' s unquestioned support for the Suharto regime, would be very valuable. Contact your Representatives, join support groups, campaign etc. Also, the Indonesian pro-democracy movement needs support. The amount of domestic dissent is growing, and pressure is needed overseas regarding the regime's labor relations, human rights violations including basic civil rights."
Ramos Horta thinks that outside advocacy groups are effective, and I agree. Since Morocco derives so much support from France and the US, concerted campaigns targeting aid to Morocco could be effective. Something I hadn't considered before is the link between Western Sahara and Moroccan democracy reformers. What Moroccan parties advocate a referendum in Western Sahara?


  1. What Moroccan parties advocate a referendum in Western Sahara?

    None. They all did while the monarchy did, but when it changed its royal mind, they did too. Well, not quite true: there is a tiny, contrarian Marxist group called Ila al-Amam that supports Polisario in all but name, but they're minuscule. They're too small for the monarchy to even bother persecuting them, these days -- it did up until the 80s, though.

    Same in Algeria, even if seems a bit more relaxed there, where people are not quite so pathologically nationalist. The only people who will (openly) support Morocco over Western Sahara are Trotskyites and Islamist ex-rebels, because they hate their own government so much they figure it must be wrong about this too.

  2. Anonymous11:42 AM

    At the UN, Plug Is Pulled On Polisario, Access Cut by Khalilzad, Press Freedom's Day's To Come

    Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News/Muse

    UNITED NATIONS, May 1 -- In the ongoing politics of the UN, and those of the Western Sahara, Monday at the Security Council stakeout a representative of the Polisario Front stood in front of the camera and took questions.

    Inner City Press asked him about a statement just made by French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, that the Moroccan autonomy (but not independence) proposal was consistent with the UN-recognized right to self-determination. The response made reference to France's history as a colonial power. And then the recording of the stakeout goes dark.

    At Minute 6:10, Inner City Press asks the Polisario's Ahmed Boukhari about France. At Minute 6:18 the screen goes dark.

    Tuesday at the noon briefing, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson said that this had all been an error. But it remained and remains unclear exactly what happened. Sources tell Inner City Press that during the Polisario's brief on-camera stakeout, an order went out, "Cut this off... cut it." While the order was received by UNTV is the basement, where Ban Ki-moon happened to be filming messages for broadcast overseas, and while the order was eventually transmitted to the crew on the second floor by the Security Council, the order did not originate within UNTV.

    Now no one wants to say from where the order came. Fingers have been pointed, motive and opportunity have been weighed. The Polisario representative had been present at and around the stakeout throughout Monday morning, speaking to reporters, in full view of UN security and staff. That is how it should be. The Polisario's proposal for talks and a referendum, with independence as a choice, is mentioned in the Security Council's own resolution.

    Western Sahara, behind the fence, no camera, "pull the plug"

    But even if by some still-not-articulated rule, the Polisario representative was not to have been filmed in front of the Security Council's banner, once the taping started, to cut it off and then mystify how it was done is bush league. It is reminiscent, in its way, to the UN's ham-handed three-week postponement of its exhibition to commemorate the Rwandan genocide, click here for that story. To be sure the UN's side is heard, here's the noon briefing transcript on the issue:

    Spokesperson: ...We talked to the Department of Public Information about this. They said that what happened is a mistake, and they’re sorry about it. We also talked to DPA. There was no order from them for anything to be cut off. Apparently, there was confusion about the identity of the speaker. When Mr. Ahmed Boukhari approached the mic, staff did not recognize him and were unable to identify him. The judgement was made that the TV feed should be cut short. And for this, we are sorry. There is no policy of that sort. Of course, Mr. Boukhari had the right to speak at the stakeout. And the majority of his press encounter is now on the website.

    Question: But the question that I have for you is that, there were journalists -- myself and others -- who were asking questions. So who made the decision to cut off the feed while questions were being asked? It’s not that somebody was at the stakeout. There was nobody there except UNTV. There’s a difference between cutting something off and cutting something off for a reason. And he was answering my questions and others. And that is the part that upsets me.

    Spokesperson: It was a mistake. They took whoever told them to stop it as being someone who was authorized.

    Question: Who told them?

    Spokesperson: We don't know at this point. We have been trying to find out who said it. We can tell you that no one was authorized to do it. No one.

    And yet it happened. In an atmosphere where free speech was more established, one surmises it wouldn't have happened.

    Another step backwards this week at the UN is the refusal of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to brief the press about the Security Council's plan of work for May, when the United States holds the presidency. All recent Council presidents have held such press conferences, including the Ambassadors from South Africa, Slovakia, Qatar, Peru and Congo-Brazzaville. At Congo's briefing, Inner City Press asked about press freedom. Nevertheless, the Republic of Congo mission held the press conference. For the U.S., which speaks so often of transparency and freedom of the press, to not even provide the access that Republic of Congo did is surprising. This week the UN is full of events about press freedom. Where things go from here remains to be seen.

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  3. Anonymous11:43 AM

    Most Security Council stakeout action concerns only timing. New U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad, asked about the Council's trip to Kosovo, called it "productive," and said he'd come out and speak with reporters after the Council's meetings. Later the U.S. spokesman said whatever Khalilzad says, it will be fast, as the U.S. takes over the presidency of the Council tomorrow.

    Enter Amb. Khalilzad, stage right

    The representative of Western Sahara's Polisario Front, who asked to not be taped, took issue the draft resolution "welcoming serious and credible Moroccan efforts" while merely "taking note" of the Polisario's proposal. "It is not balanced," he said. China's position remains, in a word, inscrutable.

    [Update of 11:54 a.m. -- Amb. Khalilzad emerged and said agreement has been reached on the Western Sahara resolution. He took one question, and then on the fly a second. The Polisario representative emerged somewhat chastened, saying that "many" countries had asked why only the Morocco efforts were praised in the resolution. Inner City Pres asked him, "But will the vote be 15-0 for it?" He answered, "Yes, that's what I expect"...]

    While the postponed Rwanda genocide exhibit is supposed to finally open this evening at 6 p.m. in the UN General Assembly's south lobby, as of 9:20 a.m., nothing was being prepared in the space. Rather, there were two white boards for visitors to write what they think the UN should work on. Darfur was a theme, and the environmental, and stopping wars. Yes, that would be nice...


  4. Anonymous11:52 AM

    Save Freedonia
    When it comes to Western Sahara, America's Africa policy is so bad you'd think it was dealing with an imaginary country from a Groucho Marx movie.
    Ian Williams

    Show all

    All Ian Williams articles
    About Webfeeds May 1, 2007 7:30 PM | Printable version
    Not many people have heard of the Western Sahara dispute and most congressmen could not tell it from Freedonia - until the lobbyists came a-knocking.

    Yesterday, the UN Security Council fought back a Franco-American effort to rewrite international law in favour of Morocco and against the people of Western Sahara. Morocco has offered dubious "autonomy" to Western Sahara, but is refusing to hold the referendum in the territory that the World Court and the UN Security Council have called for - and to which Morocco had agreed, until it became clear that it would lose.

    The compromise resolution did not endorse the Moroccan plan, but called for talks between Morocco and the Sahrawi Polisario, "with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara." The Moroccan plan directly precluded self-determination.

    The US's new pro-Moroccan policy was heralded last week when no less than 168 members of congress signed a letter demanding that the White House support Morocco - regardless of international law or previous policy.

    We can safely assume that at least 160 of them had never heard of Western Sahara a month ago. When the learned members of congress rush to sign a fact-free letter on foreign policy, you can be sure that there is a lobby at work.

    Not that the lobbies have to work too hard. In foreign policy matters congressmen can be like urinal walls - you can write anything on them. In 1992, a Spy magazine reporter called some two score Republican congressional new-comers for the Newt Gingrich revolution and asked them what they were going to do about the situation in Freedonia. The neocons had not taken over then, so not one of them suggested regime change and getting rid of Groucho. Instead, they waffled in a statesmanlike way about the efforts they would take to ensure stability there.

    So, on this occasion, who could be too surprised to discover that the lobbyists responsible for those diplomatic triumphs, the war in Iraq, the war on terror, the embargo on Cuba and America's uncritical support for whichever nudnik heads the Knesset were also those who garnered the 168 signatures?

    Morocco has put in some $30m into its lobbying effort and, through its surrogate, the "Moroccan American Policy Center", has been tickling the soft underbelly of the congress.

    Toby Muffett, a former Connecticut representative who had been elected on a Naderite clean-up-Congress ticket, engagingly described a week in the life of a lobbyist in the Los Angeles Times recently:

    I leave and rush to the House side of the Capitol to meet another client, the ambassador from Morocco. We have a meeting with a key member of the Appropriations Committee. Morocco has a good story to tell. It is a reliable friend of the U.S. It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the western Sahara must be resolved.

    We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible Al Qaeda training area. ...My idea is to sell this as a chance for Democrats to resolve a dispute in a critical region, in contrast to the president's utter failure to fix anything.

    And on the Republican side, Elliot Abrams the "deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy", a hawkish pro-Israeli supporter and one of the neocon devisers of the Iraq war, has also been pushing the Moroccan plan, betraying the same insouciance towards legal technicalities that he did when convicted over the Iran/Contra scandal.

    In Washington, the Moroccan Embassy hired Edelman for $35,000 a month as its lobbyist, which of course had nothing to with the timely letter from an increasingly conservative and belligerent American Jewish Committee weighing in with a letter of support for the king, who combines being chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference's Committee for Jerusalem with being one of Israel's best friends in the Arab world.

    For Morocco supporters, an enemy's friend is a hated foe. Polisario has the dubious benefit of Castro's support and that is enough, (plus a $15,000 monthly retainer) to rally the Florida delegation, which has also noticed that El Jefe has a soft spot for the Palestinians as well, with similar results on their voting patterns.

    The 168 signatories are almost a roll-call of anti-Castro, pro-Israeli members of Congress, and their numbers were doubtless boosted when the MACP recently hired the law-and-lobbying firm of Alberto Cardenas, a veteran anti-Castro Cuban American who served two terms as head of Florida's Republican Party and co-chaired Bush's 2004 effort in the Sunshine State.

    That alone should put in relief his concern for Democracy in north Africa. But just in case you had lingering doubts, Freedom House and similar bodies give Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and Zimbabwe the same human rights score, just beating, by a wrenched out finger-nail, Tibet, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan.

    If in doubt, of course, invoke terrorism. Most of the letters from the King's men and women invoke the Polisario-held areas as potential heartlands of al-Qaida style terrorism. Oddly enough, in the real world, the Polisario's biggest supporter is Algeria, which is battling Islamic extremists with some considerable vigour - indeed a little too much for some tender minded observers - while Polisario itself was, until recently, proclaimed a communist plot by American politicians, which is why they have tacitly supported the Moroccan occupation all these years.

    But luckily, it's not all Duck Soup on Capitol Hill - even if there are far too many horse feathers around for comfort. Most of the members of the African subcommittee in the house were among the 50-plus who signed an opposing letter demanding US support for Sahrawi self-determination. But without Moroccan money behind it, not many people heard about the story.

    It's no way to rule a world!

    The Guardian (UK)

  5. Anonymous12:05 PM

    "We can safely assume that at least 160 of them had never heard of Western Sahara a month ago". Oh ! now that Polisario has been beaten at its own game, suddenly congressmen don't know anything about the Western Sahara. But I think I just understood, the 43 who signed polisario letter know the issue perfectly, and the 171 who signed the Letter in favor of the Autonomy plan don't.
    I am sure the comments would have been totally different if 171 have signed Polisario letter. But still, I admire Polisario and its supporters' trickiness, either the Front loose or win, always trying to profit from the situation.

  6. The far left Moroccan party al-nahaj al-dimuqrati (sic?) supports self-determination in Western Sahara.

  7. It's too bad all the pro-referendum parties seem to be on the fringe. I imagine their support might actually hurt Western Sahara's case in Morocco. Still, self-determination lovers can't be choosers, as they say.

    Awesome to have you commenting again, Sahara-Watch. I liked your blase headline on the UN resolution.

    Most recent anonymous commenter: good point about the claim that pro-Polisario signatories are better informed. Some of it is bluster--after all, two representatives signed both letters. However, and I have no way of confirming this because Arabic finals are crushing my soul, I read somewhere that the pro-Polisario congressmen who signed are mostly on the African subcommittee. That'd be more impressive, and would demonstrate that people whose job it is to know about Africa support Polisario.

  8. Anonymous6:55 AM

    Folks interested in learning more about East Timor's struggle for independence should check out The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network has supported East Timor's self-determination since 1999. Just do a search on Sahara for some comments and comparisons between the two struggles.

  9. Anonymous3:43 PM

    Hi Will & All

    Any know what HE US ambassador in Morocco said

    According to Moroccan newspaper ( ) claimed that HE Mr Ambassador told very sincere things about King M6 and About Sahara issue “ ..Polisario is the official spokesman of people of Western Sahara and the CORCAS ( Morocco council of Sahara) will not take part in the incoming negotiations …)


  10. That guy looks a bit like actor Dan Hedaya: