What happened in Melilla on Friday 24th June?

Dave Kellaway introduces an article from Catalan Anticapitalista comrade, Marti Caussi. Warning - Article does contain an image that some may find disturbing.

Last Friday an attempt by several thousand migrants to cross the wall that divides the Spanish enclave of Melilla was met by extreme violence by the Moroccan police in cooperation with the Spanish police. At least 37 were killed although human rights organisations say this figure could be higher because of the haste with which the Moroccan authorities have tried to bury the victims, preventing any autopsies. Bodies were piled up and injured people continued to be attacked. Although the supposed progressive Premier, Pedro Sánchez, backed away from his original statement after seeing more images and regretted the violence, he has still given his political approval to the overall operation, refused to sack any ministers and rejected an independent inquiry. His left wing coalition partners, Unidas Podemos have expressed their disagreement with Sanchez’s position and some MPs have spoken out on demos but they have refused to quit the government and their ministerial posts. Recently the Sánchez government has moved from its position of neutrality over the independence issue in Western Sahara and has supported reactionary Morocco’s plans.

Pedro Sanchez crosses the Rubicon over Melilla migrant massacre

The article was written by Marti Caussi in Viento Sur, a magazine of the Anticapitalistas in the Spanish State

(translated by Dave Kellaway who has slightly edited the article to clarify the text for readers unfamiliar with Spanish politics)

There are events that mark a qualitative change, a before and after in defining a leader, a party or a government. Crossing the Rubicon has this meaning since Julius Caesar crossed that small river, started a civil war and then made himself dictator for life.

With the political approval of the slaughter of 37 migrants in Melilla Pedro Sánchez (Spanish Premier and leader of the PSOE, the Socialist Workers Party of Spain) has crossed his Rubicon. Without a radical rectification, which is increasingly unlikely he and his government will not be able to claim to be at all progressive and will become s government of shame.

All the facts you need to draw this conclusion are in the magnificent article Not in our name that Olga Rodríguez published in eldiario.es. Sánchez has:

  • described the attempt to cross the fence into Spanish territory as a violent attack on the territorial integrity of Spain,
  • defended the actions of the Moroccan and Spanish police,
  • not expressed any condolences to the families of the victims,
  • not announced any independent investigation into the events,
  • placed the responsibility on the mafias that traffic in human beings
  • not announced the dismissal of any minister particularly the interior minister, Marlaska

This massacre is the culmination of the policies of institutional racism that have existed for years in the Spanish State under both PP (conservative) and PSOE (social liberal) governments:

To give some details;

  • Governments have refused to ensure legal and safe channels and give a dignified reception to people seeking refuge, although the war in Ukraine has shown this was possible.
  • Maritime rescue and the activity of NGO boats that carry it out have been obstructed, which has turned the Mediterranean Sea into the deadliest border in the world.
  • Immediate return of migrants at the border without checking individually whether they have the right to seek asylum is in violation of one of the basic principles of the Geneva Convention. Although the Court of Strasbourg (ECHR) changed its mind and endorsed the returns following the breaking of the fence at Melilla, the vast majority of human rights organizations have expressed their disagreement.
  • The confinement of undocumented migrants who manage to reach the Iberian peninsula in Alien Detention Centers (CIE), is a first step to the expulsion of many of them. It should be remembered that not having papers is not a crime but only an administrative offence and that people locked up in CIEs are treated much worse than in prisons.
  • Use of disproportionate violence against people who try to jump the fences or swim. In El Tarajal this violence caused the death of 15 people in 2014 when the PP was governing. In 2022 the Supreme Court has finally filed the case against 16 Civil Guards

But the Melilla massacre means a qualitative leap for several factors: a large number of dead and wounded, the political justification given by Pedro Sánchez and some ministers, and the fact that it has been inserted into a long-lasting strategy.

First of all, this is the case because of the change of position on the Sahara, aimed precisely at buying Morocco’s repression against migrants trying to reach Europe. Second because a few days ago the Foreign Minister asked NATO to consider immigration on the southern border as a “hybrid threat” to be fought militarily. This strategy implies that other similar events will be repeated in the future.

Adopting this policy means the deprivation of elementary human rights, the justification of repression and the use of violence, even resulting in death, against migrants trying to reach Europe through the south of the peninsula or the Canary Islands. This dehumanization of entire peoples is a key feature of fascism.

Since the electoral rise of Vox (the far right party), there is justified talk of the danger of this neo-fascist party forming a government with the PP, but it is too often forgotten that these parties advance thanks to fascist measures taken by governments that are not fascist. Fighting effectively the fascist danger implies fighting the policies that lead to the reinforcement of its current, in particular the dehumanization of social groups, whatever the government that applies them.

With his attitude towards the events in Melilla, Pedro Sanchez has jumped the ethical, moral and political barriers to Human Rights that every progressive government should respect. He has decisively contributed to the policies of the reactionary right wing and neo-fascism rising in public opinion before winning at the polls. He has paved the way for the triumph of the PP and Vox.

Since the 25th of June Pedro Sánchez has not rectified his position.  It should consist in recognizing that he has made a mistake, condemning the actions of the Moroccan and Spanish police, creating an independent commission of investigation and dismissing Minister Grande Marlaska for being the most directly implicated.

Both Sánchez and the PSOE ministers reaffirmed their position. Therefore, I believe that no leftist, democrat or defender of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should support the government of Pedro Sanchez. In particular, I think that United Podemos has not gone far enough with lamenting the deaths and asking for a commission of inquiry, I think it should leave the government so as not to be complicit in events such as those in Melilla. It should move to the opposition and try to contribute to creating an alternative.

The repeated mantra that if Pedro Sánchez is not supported the PP and Vox will come in and they are worse is false. The worst thing is that a supposedly left-wing government makes reactionary right-wing and extreme right-wing policies. The worst thing is to ignore the ethical, political and humanitarian principles essential for the defence of life, rights and dignity of people. The worst thing is to suffer reactionary policies without raising an alternative.

There have been protests against the Spanish and Morocco government’s actions in a number of cities last weekend and early this week. 

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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