From being hosts to promoting a humanitarian operation in the Western Sahara to the UN

Article in CajaSiete Blog. 17 December 2020

Leopoldo Cólogan

Playa de Las Teresitas, with sand from the Sahara Desert, on the east coast of Tenerife.

Hotels were the main stars of the year 2020. They were places where heroes, with a sense of social responsibility and demonstrating creativity and ethics, successfully tackled one of the first cases of the disease known as COVID-19, which evolved to become the current pandemic, in Spain at the beginning of 2020.

Some of these heroes were the team at Hotel H10 Costa Adeje in Tenerife, medical staff as well as other professionals and decision-makers, including politicians, who had to manage this situation. This shows us once again that people can do extraordinary things and contribute something to their community – even when acting within their everyday environment and with all their flaws and virtues.

The workers said “we have to show who we are and we are hosts”. And that is what they did, conveying a sense of human dignity, donating any tips to NGOs and leaving a lasting impression on those who had paid for a holiday and had to confront a very different – and extreme – experience to the one they had expected. This is what these workers were recognised for at Futurismo Canarias 2020, with the exemplary award for COVID-19.

Following this, hotels have continued to be key players as they have had to close and remain empty, creating a desolate outlook for the Canary Islands. This has brought an essential economic and social sector to a standstill, generating the need for many people and families who live directly or indirectly from it to earn a living elsewhere in order to cover their basic needs.

This economic paralysis, along with many other factors, prompted the publication of Royal Decree Act 34/2020 of 17 November on urgent measures to support business solvency and the energy sector and on tax matters, which provides for a three-year extension of the validity term of the guarantees under RDl 8/2020 of 17 March and extends the deadline for complying with the obligation to request the declaration of insolvency of debtors in a state of insolvency until 14 March 2021.

The importance of hotels has increased and some of them are now used to accommodate migrants, a drama of people risking their lives at sea who are victims of the illegal business of human trafficking, which thrives on the misfortune of others. This is generating new activity in the Canary Islands in this area with the non-compliance of some rules, such as those pertaining to legal entry to Spain, permitted uses and urban development in different installations. This represents an additional cost for a society that is unable to generate sufficient jobs for its current inhabitants and makes it even more difficult to reopen hotels in the surrounding area.

The laxity in complying with the rules in different areas, such as the lack of respect for the property of others, including the promotion of illegal occupation of homes or properties, and the questioning of the fundamental institutions of democracy, such as the judiciary, preventing evictions, when there have already been trials with final sentences, sends a negative message to society. Why there are other rules that must be complied with, given the excess of regulations that do not always respond to the logic of rewarding effort and being able to deduct all your real and essential expenses for tax purposes? This could lead to people questioning why, on the other hand, we must be so demanding with regard to compliance with the tax obligations of Messi and the King Emeritus, with all the added value that they have contributed to Spain. Building trust in institutions is essential.

"The application of the international legislation at source should take precedence over the imposition of faits accomplis and particular political interests, which is why international law cannot be applied on the basis of faits accomplis, ignoring the previous status [...]"

The fact is that Spain, or its government, is more limited in its capacity to act in West Africa than Real Madrid CF and/or FC Barcelona. With the backing of the UN and the Spanish government, they could count on the support of the Spanish Royal House and the EU to set up a sports city, a football team that plays in the Spanish league and thus in the European leagues, and a university in the Western Sahara, creating an economic and social centre around it that would be attractive to the inhabitants of West Africa and would serve as a platform for fulfilling dreams.

Developing the previous project will create many jobs and prioritise the hiring of the inhabitants of Western Sahara, who should be the main actors of any undertaken projects. Before this, as a more immediate measure, the Spanish army has demonstrated – when it has been allowed to – that it has the capacity, experience and means to carry out humanitarian and solidarity campaigns. This involves rescue at sea, in cooperation with the UN and from the Western Sahara, setting up the necessary hospitals and infrastructure there in a few days, as has been done in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and serving as a means to control the pandemic, as well as to process and organise asylum requests and orderly and solidarity-based migration.

As a result, Spain has the capacity and the means, such as new generations trained in Spanish (the common language of Spain and the Western Sahara), French (Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal) and English (Gambia), as well as the legal legitimacy to promote it, given that, according to UN resolutions, it is legally, despite its self-exemption and the 1975 Madrid agreements with Morocco and Mauritania, the administrator of Western Sahara according to the legal report (document S/2002/161) addressed to the President of the UN Security Council and dated 29 January 2002, whose territory is still on the UN list as a non-self-governing territory awaiting decolonisation.

This administration was set up for the purpose of holding a referendum on self-determination, based on the 1974 Spanish census, in which the Sahrawi people would decide their future and whether they wished to become an independent and sovereign state, freely associate with a separate independent state, fully integrate into another independent state or assume any other political status or condition.

The application of the international legislation at source should take precedence over the imposition of faits accomplis and particular political interests, which is why international law cannot be applied on the basis of faits accomplis, ignoring the previous status, which is very relevant when it comes to determining the territorial waters of Western Sahara and those of the Canary Islands, where humanitarian rescue operations, among others, must be carried out.

It is evident that a common language offers a competitive advantage and strengthens ties and that other languages provide cultural enrichment. There is also no doubt that helping others is very satisfying, but we must not forget that what really helps is training in skills and rewarding effort and providing opportunities. What has to come from West Africa to the Canary Islands, a remote region of the EU, are boats, sailing boats and yachts; and the same must come from the opposite direction to generate an area of social and economic activity, with a wonderful coastline, which is rich in fishing, phosphates, iron, oil and gas. Overcoming this pandemic will allow us to host one another without anyone imposing solidarity, which must be voluntary, since the freedom of some people ends where the freedom of others begins.

You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t help those in need by ruining and weakening those who could help them. Problems are solved at the source. The solution in the Canary Islands lies in helping the tourism sector, which provides more than 40% of jobs, and in not taking away 100 million of aid from the banana sector. The agricultural sector, as has become evident during the pandemic, is essential for general interest, and bananas in particular are its main export product, accounting for more than 80% of agricultural exports, the infrastructure and logistics of which are helping to develop other products and reduce the costs of imports.