Thursday, 18 October 2012

Now I really like Javier Bardem

I thought Javier Bardem was very convincing in both Before Night Falls (gay Cuban writer) and No Country for Old Men (psycho killer). So he’s a good actor and also pretty cute. That said, it turns out he has a conscience, too, and puts it to use by raising awareness of the decades-long scandal of occupied Western Sahara.

Never heard of the place? How about that, hardly anyone in the audience at the IFC Center Tuesday had either, where Bardem introduced a new documentary film about the situation, Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony. It explained how the decolonization of Africa missed one corner when the Spanish occupiers of the sparsely populated Mediterranean coast packed up to leave. But instead of granting independence to the native population, they stood aside while the Moroccan king Hassan II occupied the place to fulfill his irredentist vision.

The usual horror story followed: slaughter, mass dislocation, violent resistance, a long-running guerrilla war and a police state in the cities. And finally, a security wall hundreds of miles long dividing the country in two. The financial drain on the Moroccan occupiers over the last 30 years has been enormous and a good reason why that country is a prime candidate for an Arab spring given its stagnant economy and vast pool of youth with no future.

Once the story is laid out, the film has few surprises, but the commentary afterward from Bardem and others, like Kerry Kennedy of the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights [both below], was gripping. They described their visit to El Aaioun, the capital of the occupied colony, and the creepy scenes they witnessed, including beatings in the street and retaliations against anyone who talked to them as well as constant surveillance. Bardem explained that Spaniards feel a special responsibility for the situation given that their leaders had the chance to stop what happened and instead abandoned the local people, known as Saharaoui, to the invaders.

Morocco was a Cold War ally of the West, and the situation has been conveniently forgotten for years. But high-profile support from celebrities and Kennedys can’t hurt, and one should not underestimate the potential of a human rights-based campaign to tear away the veil and pressure a regime. Plus, the Cold War is over, and Morocco isn’t so important any more now that Libya is solidly in the West-friendly camp and no proxy wars are active anywhere on the continent.

One aspect not mentioned of the Western Sahara nightmare was its close resemblance a certain ongoing occupation just down the block, which also includes a dividing wall and a settler movement—Palestine. It’s understandable that no foundation associated with RFK, given how he died, would touch that issue. But as the campaign for justice in WS continues, the similarities will be hard to ignore.

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