The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Western Sahara mourns Fidel Open in fullscreen

Habibulah Mohamed Lamin

Western Sahara mourns Fidel

Sahrawi women mourn Fidel Castro [Jalil Mohamed]

Date of publication: 2 December, 2016

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
In-depth: Many Sahrawi doctors and teachers were trained in Cuba under Castro's programme of solidarity with Western Sahara, reports Habibulah Lamin

Sahrawi refugees on Tuesday marched in a rally to mourn Fidel Castro and express their gratitude towards Cuba's late revolutionary leader - a fierce supporter of the Polisario Front, Western Sahara's liberation movement.

Cuba recognised the Polisario-declared state, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and continued its support as the Front embraced armed struggle between 1973 and 1991.

A UN-brokered ceasefire agreement was reached between the Front and Morocco - which had laid claim to the territory when Spain withdrew in 1975 - that ostensibly aimed to support the Sahrawi people's rights to self-determination by means of a plebiscite. However, to date, there has been no referendum, as Morocco rejects any process that would include independence as a choice.

The late Fidel supported the Polisario in war and peace, and was an unwavering advocate of the Sahrawi cause.  

Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Polisario Front, released part of a letter to Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and the current president of Cuba: "It is with deep regret and sorrow that we learned the news of the death of president and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, on Friday night in Havana at the age of 90."  

Ghali declared three days of mourning. Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, the Front's foreign minister, led a delegation to attend Fidel's funeral in Havana, and was received by Cuban vice-president Salvador Mesa.

But beyond the diplomatic ties, there remains a lasting impact that Fidel has left on Sahrawi refugees.

Hassan Bachri Sbai is a 35-year-old Sahrawi doctor who spent 10 years in Cuba. He is now working at the main hospital in Rabuni Camp, where he treats thousands of Sahrawi patients pouring in from different district camps. 

Dr Hassan calls Fidel a champion of human values. "Fidel was a fearless fighter for dignity and equality," he said.

Abdelkader Taleb Omar, Sahrawi prime minister-in-exile,
paid respects to the late Cuban leader [Jalil Mohamed]

The camps filled with Sahrawi refugees in Algeria are rife with positive effects from the Fidel era, especially in hospital facilities, where some even call those doctors who graduated in Cuba "Sahrawi-Cubans".

Dr Hassan agrees that Cuba will always stay in his mind: "I cannot ignore that the time I spent in Cuba has shaped part of my identity."

Some 35km from Rabuni is the biggest camp, Smara, where Dr Bachir Saila has returned after 14 years in Cuba. He has established his own pharmacy right next to the adobe house where his family lives. "I volunteer at the hospital five days a week and dedicate the weekend to my pharmacy," he said.

Dr Bachir also praises Fidel for his stance supporting the Sahrawi people: "We lost a man that we Sahrawis will never forget."

Abba Mohamed Lamin is the head of the Sahrawi dental co-op commission and studied dentistry in Cuba. He is one of many who turned to social media to hail Fidel's legacy.

"Quien no sea capaz de luchar por otros, no será nunca suficientemente capaz de luchar por sí mismo"
Comandante en jefe Fidel Castro Ruz!

"Who is not capabale to fight for others will never be sufficiently capable to fight for himself."

Relations between Sahrawis and the Cuban people have evolved throughout the past 36 years. Cuban doctors have been living in the Sahrawi camps for years. And Cuban staff run the camps' first high school, named after Simon Bolivar.

Habibulah Mohamed Lamin is a journalist based in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. He has worked as a translator and is director of Equipe Media Branch, a group of media activists covering Western Sahara. His work focuses on politics and culture of the Maghreb.

Follow him on Twitter: @

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More