Sea Change In US-Cuba Relations Makes Waves Deep In Desert
Tinduf, Algeria -- News about the historic change of relations between the United States and Cuba triggered cheers across the five Sahrawi refugee camps located near this Sahara Desert city located 1,100-miles southwest of Algeria’s capital of Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea.
That news elevated hopes among many Sahrawi that the major changes in relations between the U.S. and its longtime, bitter enemy Cuba would lead to the U.S. pushing for changes with its longtime ally – Morocco.
Morocco is the country that has illegally occupied the Western Sahara, the ancestral homeland of the Sahrawi, since a 1975 invasion. Morocco controls 80+ percent of the Western Sahara, including its mineral rich inland region and coastal fisheries that generate billions of dollars in exports annually -– money that helps fund Morocco’s expensive occupation.
Since 1991, when Morocco and the Polisario Front (which represents the Sahrawi) ended a 16-year long war over Morocco’s invasion, America's major ally in North Africa has repeatedly reneged on its agreement with the United Nations to hold a voter referendum in the Western Sahara where residents would decide their future through a democratic vote.
"We woke up very happy with the historical announcement of President Obama establishing new relations with Cuba. We hope that Mr. Obama will take another historic position and enforce international law on the Western Sahara. We are tired of waiting," Adda Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim is the governor of Smara, the largest of the five Sahrawi refugee camps surrounding Tindof. Over 160,000 Sahrawi live in those camps, many ever since they fled Morocco's 1975 invasion. Other camp residents were forced to flee over the years from Morocco's brutal occupation of the Western Sahara. All camp residents live in bleak conditions on barren desert land where summer temperatures frequently hit 130 degrees.
The government formed by the Polisario Front for the Western Sahara is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR is the government for the liberated zones of the Western Sahara and for the Sahrawi living in the refugee camps around Tinduf.
“What President Obama did with Cuba gives us hope that there will be a clear vision for the Western Sahara,” Khadija Hamdi, Minister of Culture for the SADR said, one day after headline news announcements of the historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations during her meeting with journalists from America.
The U.S. broke relations with Cuba in the early 1960s following a revolution in that Caribbean nation that overthrew a brutal but pro-American dictator Fulgencio Batista. The US justified its half-century-long, punishing (and still running) embargo against Cuba by contending that nation needed democratization and a greater respect for human rights.