50 years of struggles and victories of the Polisario Front

By Sergio Rodriguez Gelfenstein
May 18, 2023

Translated by John Catalinotto

Today, May 10, marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario), the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people in their struggle for self-determination. Likewise this coming May 20, people will commemorate half a century since the beginning of the armed struggle against the Spanish colonial power.

The Polisario Front, founded in 1973 by El Uali Mustafa Sayed, along with other young Saharawis, gave continuity to the struggles undertaken since the 1960s by the Movement for the Liberation of the Sahara, led by Mohamed Sidi Brahim Basir. Its objective, from the first moment of its existence, has been to win the independence of Western Sahara.

The Polisario Front’s half-century of struggle has allowed it to consolidate national unity and build the Saharawi identity. Despite all the successes however, the Saharawi people have not yet been able to gain total and absolute independence.

The creation of the Polisario Front took place in the context of the struggle for independence of the African peoples against colonialism and imperialism. Similarly, this event is closely linked to the great social and political conquests achieved by the struggle of the workers, women and youth in various regions of the planet. Since then, their struggle has been inscribed in the history of anti-colonial and pro-democracy battles.

Western Sahara, the Spanish state and Morocco

At the beginning of 1973, there were many meetings between groups campaigning for the independence of Western Sahara. In the first months of that year, these associations moved toward agreements of greater understanding and coordination of actions against colonialism.

At the end of April 1973, a conference was held irregularly and in different places in the desert, to divert the Spanish intelligence service. In these sessions, the participants decided to create a political-military organization to fight for independence. As a result, the Polisario Front was born on May 10, 1973, in Zuerat (Mauritania).

Ten days later, the Polisario Front attacked the police post of El Janga, starting the anti-colonial liberation war that was expanding the magnitude and geographical space of its actions, causing more and more casualties to the Spanish army. Meanwhile, the prestige of the Polisario Front and its liberation army grew in the mind and spirit of the Saharawi people, who also began to receive international support, especially from Algeria and Libya.

The strong armed blows suffered by the Spanish occupation army demonstrated the justice of the armed struggle being waged. Under these conditions, the enraged Francoist dictatorship began to look for an “honorable way out” of the situation that had been created. To that extent, with the attitude typical of colonial powers, Francoist Spain set about the task of creating an “independent” autochthonous [Indigenous] government that would function under Madrid’s control.

On Aug. 20, 1974, the Spanish government sent a note to the United Nations Secretary General announcing its intention to hold a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara during the first half of 1975. At the same time, it promoted the formation of a political party loyal to Madrid’s interests called the “Saharawi National Union Party” (PUNS).

During 1975, the Saharawi Liberation Army was strengthened through the incorporation of several military units that increased its firepower and maneuvering capacity to the point of undertaking large-scale operations. For example, it could seize control of Spanish military posts, while striking the occupier’s troops and rearguard.

After 2 1/2 years of war, the Polisario Front crowned its political-military efforts on Oct. 12, 1975, by holding the Convention for National Unity, in the locality of Ain Ben Tili. But by then Spain had reached a secret agreement with Morocco for the surrender of the Saharawi territory, in what is considered one of the greatest betrayals in colonial history [by turning control over to Morocco].

Faced with this situation, the Polisario Front convened a large assembly attended by personalities from all the political forces in favor of independence: representatives of various sectors and members of the Djema’a, which is the main body of a tribe and is composed of elders and elected leaders.

In this framework and under the leadership of El Uali Mustafa Sayed, they proclaimed the union of the people around the program and structures of the Polisario Front, with the aim of achieving independence and defending the territorial integrity of Western Sahara.

A united and inclusive society

The long struggle of resistance by the Polisario Front against the Moroccan occupation has made it possible to lay the foundations for the construction of a society and a state, which are projected into the future on the basis of ideas which gather the best of the human condition and the fundamental principles of coexistence in the world.

In these years, the Polisario Front has been able to build a united and inclusive Saharawi society. To this end it brings together all the progressive sectors and personalities of Saharawi society wherever they are: in exile; in the liberated regions; or those under Moroccan occupation.

During the 50 years since its creation, the Polisario Front has renewed its commitment to those who have fallen in dozens of years of struggle against colonialism and Moroccan expansionism. Its objectives have always been, in addition to independence, the construction of a modern state in the context of  North African regional integration.

At the international level, the Polisario Front defends the creation of a Palestinian state, the unity of the Arab world and the elimination of all forms of colonialism in Africa.

Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein is a Venezuelan consultant and international analyst, former Director of International Relations of the Presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Advisor on international policy of the President of TeleSUR and Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Nicaragua. (Twitter: @sergioro0701)