The President of Peru appeals to "the principle of self-determination of peoples" and thaws relations with the Polisario Front

Pedro Castillo and Brahim Ghali sign a joint letter officially re-establishing links between Lima and the self-styled Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)
Peruvian left-wing presidential candidate for the Peru Libre party, Pedro Castillo

AFP/ERNESTO BENAVIDES  -   Peruvian left-wing presidential candidate for the Peru Libre party, Pedro Castillo

The dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front transcends the borders of the terrain. The military offensives that marked the beginning of the dispute in 1975 gave way to diplomatic struggles for support and legitimacy from abroad following the ceasefire agreement. The Alawite kingdom has been superior to its rival despite the position of the United Nations, which for three decades has advocated a binding referendum in Western Sahara.

Throughout this time, Morocco has had more and better partners than the self-styled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Today, as many as 57 states recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara to the 37 that give credit to the Polisario Front. Some thirty countries have cancelled their recognition of the Saharawis. Even the SADR's fiefdom in Latin America, a region where the pro-independence movement was once popular, changed its course from the 1990s onwards.

The latest Latin American states to withdraw support for the Polisario Front in Western Sahara were El Salvador in 2019, and Guyana and Bolivia in 2020. Peru seems to be going against the tide. The Andean country, which recognised Sahrawi sovereignty over the territory in August 1984 during the government of President Fernando Belaunde and then froze its relations with SADR under Alberto Fujimori's regime, resumed diplomatic ties with the Polisario Front on 9 September.

Misión ONU Minurso
PHOTO/ONU/MARTINE PERRET  -   Peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) consult a map as they travel through vast desert areas of Smara, Western Sahara

The Peruvian Foreign Minister, Óscar Maúrtua, received his Saharawi counterpart, Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, in Lima. During the meeting, the two men came closer to re-establishing bilateral relations 25 years later and, hours later, the President of Peru and the leader of SADR issued a joint statement officially announcing the final decision in accordance with "the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations".

"The governments of the Republic of Peru and the Saharawi Republic reaffirm their respect for international law and the principle of self-determination of peoples, in accordance with the principle of legal equality of States as a basis for respect for national sovereignty, peace, security and cooperation in international relations," concluded the letter signed by Pedro Castillo and Brahim Ghali. In this way, Peru joins Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela and Uruguay in recognising the Saharawi emancipation.

The founder of the Marxist-Leninist formation Perú Libre, Vladimir Cerrón, welcomed the decision of the executive. "We salute President Castillo for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the Western Sahara Republic, the only people in the world still fighting against slavery", he said on Twitter. Cerrón, who has been convicted on corruption charges and removed from all public office, maintains close ties with Havana and Caracas, and is one of the most controversial figures surrounding President Castillo.

Brahim Ghali
PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Brahim Ghali, secretary general of the Frente Polisario

According to El Comercio, the Moroccan embassy in Lima welcomed the Peruvian government's decision with surprise, considering that the rapprochement goes against the direction taken by the international community, a path set by Washington. If it does not backtrack, the Alawi Kingdom could unleash a series of consequences against the interests of the Andean nation not only in Morocco, but also in other countries in the region. This is a cause for concern for the opposition.

In response, the Peruvian Congress demanded the appearance of Minister Maúrtua in the Chamber of Deputies. The Andean foreign minister was to be held accountable for "creating geopolitical instability", according to the main opposition party, Fuerza Popular. The Fujimorista party, which chairs the congressional foreign affairs committee, says the move puts Andean relations with the Middle East at risk. The foreign minister responded on Monday, although the bulk of his statement focused on the activity of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the country.

Realignment of Lima

In September 2017, the Sahrawi ambassador on special mission to Peru, Jadiyetu El Mohtar, was detained for more than two weeks at Lima airport without access to the country for "violating immigration laws", according to diplomatic sources. However, the Saharawi activist denounced a series of pressures from representatives of Fuerza Popular, the right-wing party led by Keiko Fujimori, to deny her entry. El Mohtar was eventually sent back to Madrid by the authorities, accused of carrying out "actions befitting a diplomat" without holding such a post in the eyes of the Andean state.

Pedro Castillo presidente Perú
REUTERS/ANGELA PONCE  -   Peru's President Pedro Castillo leaves Congress after his inauguration ceremony, in Lima, Peru, 28 July 2021

Peru enjoyed good relations with Morocco at the time. Recognition of and relations with the Polisario Front, considered by Rabat to be a terrorist organisation, were frozen. However, the arrival of the leftist Pedro Castillo to the presidency has changed the order in the region. Peru Libre's candidate has changed partners while defending a foreign policy governed by the principle of "non-intervention", which means that unilateral blockades against nations will be condemned and relations will be maintained with all countries in the world, without distinction, according to the president.

Latin America Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra