Monday, October 31, 2011


In May Spain held its elections for the town councils and some regional governments. On that occasion, the agenda was hijacked by the 15-M movement, Los Indignados, who campaigned for a return of true democracy and an end to political corruption. They camped out in the nation’s plazas and the people, young and old, marched with them. They were the forerunners of the protestors camping on the streets of New York and London now.

The Los Indignados have not gone away, far from it. However there is now a new mass protest movement on the streets. This involves those who have lost their homes after they were reposed by the banks – but although homeless they still face massive debts to the mortgage companies.

They held their first nationwide demonstrations on the day before the socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero dissolved parliament and Spain’s general election campaign got underway. This new angry protest movement will accompany all the parties all along the way. Their plight is the nation’s plight.

Demonstrations are being held nationwide to demand a change to the laws that govern homes being repossessed. The numbers being forced onto the streets has gathered pace because of the economic crisis and the protestors are defending the constitutional right of people to live in a home in dignity.

The action is being co-ordinated by the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca. They also have the support of the 15-M democracy movement. Their objective is a reform of the unjust mortgage law because it places in debt for life all the families that have had their homes repossessed. The law over-protects the banks and other financial entities to the detriment of the families that lose their jobs then homes because of the economic crisis.

One of the angry protestors has been 47-year-old Juan Coperías who lost his business and home, a rural hotel in Ciudad Real when he found himself in debt to over a million euros in just a few years. The bank auctioned the property for 300,000 euros and is demanding he pay them a further 400,000 euros. A despondent Juan said even if he had three lives he could not repay that huge sum.

However the majority of the cases involve homes in the 100,000 to 200,000 euros bracket. As the family cannot pay the mortgage they are forced out on to the street. The property is then auctioned at a knock down price usually to the predators waiting to pick up such bargains leaving the previous owners still owing the difference between the sale price, their mortgage plus costs.

The protestors are not alone. A recent statement was issued by the progressive judge’s association, Jueces para la Democracia, which denounced the existing law in favour of the banks. This legal group is demanding a new law that limits the ability of the financial institutions to place those who lose their homes in major debt. It wants the regulation of the handing down of huge debts on families and small businesses. The association added it was very worried by the steady growth in those made homeless because they cannot fund their mortgages.

The Spanish tragedy is that things are not going to get better – they are going to get worse. The financial crisis still has a long way to run and the jobless level, standing at over 20 per cent, could well rise. When Spaniards go to the polls on November 20 it is likely they will return a centre-right Partido Popular government. This is bad news for Los Indignados and the dispossessed. The PP, the heirs of Franco, will cut harder than the Socialists. They are no friends of democracy; they are mired in corruption and will always favour the banks over the homeless.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on Saturday October 29 2011)

Friday, October 21, 2011


As peaceful protests take place in over 80 countries around the world against the corrupt financial and political systems one only has to go to the Western Sahara to see the other side of the coin. Since the peaceful protest by tens of thousands of Saharawis last October at the Gdeim Izik protest camp Morocco has been turning up the desert heat. What was the largest ever protest in the occupied territories culminated on Monday, October 10, with Moroccan forces brutally attacking peaceful protesters in El Aaiun. The Polisario claims some 30 Saharawis were injured and many others arrested.

It was against this background that the President of the Republic and Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Mohamed Abdelaziz, called on the United Nations to impose sanctions against Morocco. The purpose is to make Rabat comply with the mandate of the UN and end its colonial policy in Western Sahara.

Mohamed Abdelaziz wrote to the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon denouncing the situation of terror, siege, abductions and imprisonments, which take place in the occupied cities of Dakhla and El Aaiun and all the occupied territories of Western Sahara at the hands of Morocco.

The president wrote: “It’s clear that Morocco does not respect the provisions of international humanitarian law, clings to continue its flagrant violations of human rights in Western Sahara, which is under direct UN responsibility, pending decolonization and exercise of inalienable right to self determination and independence.” He then went on to urge the imposition of sanctions against Morocco to fulfil the UN mandate which affirms the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination.

Mohamed Abdelaziz also drew the attention of the UN Secretary General to the situation of the family of Saeed Dembar to recover its rights as well as finally being able to bury their son who was brutally murdered by Moroccan police on December 23, 2010

The various peaceful protests by the Saharawi are an attempt to show their deep frustration over the lack of political progress in the Western Sahara to the outside world. The only meaningful activity in the region is Morocco’s plundering of their natural resources.

The Saharawis have now lived through 36 years of illegal colonisation; nearly 20 years of waiting for a referendum on the status of Western Sahara. The referendum is demanded by international law and promised by the UN yet nothing has happened hence Mohamed Abdelaziz’s strong letter to the Secretary General.

The Saharawis are not totally alone and both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused the Moroccan authorities of allegedly torturing many Saharawis. Amnesty International’s 2011Report accuses Rabat of “beatings, electric shocks and threats of rape.” It adds the detainees face military courts on trumped up charges after forced confessions.

As the protestors in New York, London, Madrid and around the world receive front page coverage in the press the authorities in Morocco maintain a media blackout in the Western Sahara. Morocco has banned the entrance to Western Sahara of media and independent observers as well as the Spanish International Association for the Observation of Human Rights (AIODH) from visiting Saharawi human rights activists held in prisons in Morocco. However the Saharawi voice has not been silenced and cries out for justice.

(A version of the above article appeared in the Morning Star on Friday October 21 2011)