A dramatic clue to the true nature of the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saquia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro) – a movement with the word “liberation” in its name – is that its leaders refuse to liberate tens of thousands of Sahrawi people languishing in remote camps in the Algerian desert. Instead, they maintain these camps and run them with an iron fist because their inhabitants are bargaining chips in a ruthless struggle for power.
Moreover, while the Polisario leaders talk peace, they have never renounced the use of violence and maintain alliances with fellow authoritarian regimes such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Libya under Col. Qadaffi, who have supported them over many decades. They pretend to promote self-determination, but their organization would not exist without substantial political, material, and diplomatic support of foreign powers. They pretend to represent the Sahrawi people but have never submitted to a legitimate election.
Perhaps the Polisario’s most important and consistent source of foreign support outside of Algeria – including lessons in sheer brutality and breathtaking duplicity – is the Castro dictatorship.
An analysis by the University of Miami’s Cuba transition project entitled, “Western Sahara: Where the Castro Regime Meets Al-Qaeda,” states that Cuba trained “…upwards of 2,000 Sahrawis …in Cuban institutions [and the trainees] today occupy important political, social, administrative and professional positions in the Polisario political and military structure.” Sahrawis who have managed to escape from the Polisario camps tell of being taken from their families and dispatched to Cuba for indoctrination and military training.
The Castro regime’s influence can be recognized immediately in the Polisario’s authoritarian and personalistic power structure. Polisario Secretary General Mohamed Abdelaziz controls a one-party dictatorship that has sustained him in power since 1976. This is manifested in the Polisario’s “democratic” constitution in which only one party is legally allowed to exist and all power is centralized. The Secretary General has the authority to appoint and dismiss the prime minister, security officials, governors, judges, etc. All members of the Polisario’s leadership are chosen primarily for their personal loyalty to Abdelaziz. And, sham elections consistently return him and his cronies to power.
The Sahrawi people are subjected to indefinite servitude under a relentless regime confining them in refugee camps where freedom of expression and freedom of movement are systematically denied. As long as the Polisario Front is able to hold power by relying on the brutal tactics taught by dictators and continue to manage their “popular base” like a prison camp, it will not be willing to end its selfish struggle and engage in meaningful and realistic negotiations to resolve this dispute.