FROM SHIPWRECK TO SOLIDARITY
For over 20 years the southern coast of Spain has seen the increasing arrival of small makeshift boats (locally called “pateras”) coming from the shores of northern Africa with mostly Moroccan immigrants, the majority of them (almost 90%) of Berber origin. It is estimated that around 8000 persons have drowned in the attempt, mostly in the treacherous waters in or around the Strait of Gibraltar. For over 20 years a procession of corpses have been knocking at the doors of our houses in the province of Cádiz, the result of twenty years of selfish and inhuman immigration laws. These sad events also brought abaout the discovery of the existence of a deep feeling of solidarity among the people of Cádiz.
Narrative of the shipwreck on the shores of Rota
The night of the 24th of October 2003 a group of 45 immigrants boarded a “patera” in an unknown place of the Morrocan coast located somewhere between the towns of Asilah and Larache. These persons had been hiding for days huddled in a house in Tangiers and awaiting the moment they could attempt the crossing of the Strait. Each one of them had previously paid 2000 euros to the mafias which organise the journey. Finally that day, the forty five persons boarded a 8 m. by 2 m. small unsafe boat which supposedly was to take them over to the European coast. The night promised to be a windy and cold one. They were ordered to remain at all time seated in silence. Due to the excess of weight, the outboard engine could hardly be manoeuvred properly. Water soon started to inundate the small boat and all the passengers could do was to desperately get the water out with a small buckets. Everyone thought by then that they were not going make it to the other side.
In the morning of the 25th of October a big storm broke out at sea. However, they all somehow managed to reach the Bay of Cádiz at seven o’clock in the evening of that day. From their dingy little boat, exhausted and feeling that they were about to sink, they were able to see the shores of Rota. It was then that they were suddenly spotted by the captain of a merchant ship anchored in the bay who immediately alerted the rescue authorities. The “patera” was, almost miraculously, being pushed by the tide towards the big ship. The immigrants could not believe their eyes when they saw the crew of the merchant boat ready to rescue them. Those who still had enough strength, began to cheer, standing and waving their hands. But it was precisely at that moment that a manoeuvre not uncommon in these circumstances was about to take place: the men in charge of the boat refused to be rescued and menacinglly shouted that they were going back into the open sea regardless of who might die.
Half an hour later, out in the open stormy sea, the small boat capsized. Nobody had lifejackets but for the two men who controlled the passangers. The few immigrants who could swim had very little chance to survive in the midst of a cold tall sea. Only a few managed to hold on to the capsized boat, but, due to the violence of the big waves that kept mercilessly pounding on them, those ended up drowning too - according to the story that the only five survivors, once rescued, told the authorities . It is no coincidence that two of those five were the people in charge of the boat who had brought with them their own emergency equipment. About nine o’clock that very evening the battered remains of the boat were beginning to appear scattered on the beaches of Rota
In the following days a macabre rosary of dismembered corpses (37) began to appear on the shores of the Bay of Cádiz. Due to the high number of casualties and the advanced stage of decomposition that the corpses presented, the people in the area felt deeply shocked and began to show their sympathy for those anonymous victims. Newspaper reports and television newsreels were showing the appaling images of the tragedy to the rest of the country and, as it has been always the case in these instances for over twenty years, silent demonstrations were organised both as a protest against the social situations that provoke such tragedies and as a homage to the victims. As it is also usual in these cases, a tangle of mutual accusations was taking place among those who could be held responsible for the tragedy. It seemed that the civil and military authorities, including those in the Spanish-American and Nato Navy Base of Rota, were duly and punctually alerted about the events. But the truth is that, whatever the case might have been, there was a clear lack of a prompt and efficiently coordinated response that could have avoided such an unfortunate incident .
The awakening of conscience
After the aboved narrated events took place there remained among the people of the bay of Cádiz the feeling that something had to be done. Then, one day, after a public homage in memory of the victims had been held in one of the beaches of El Puerto de Santa María, someone, looking out to the sea said, “somewhere over there, on the other side of the water, these young men and women have left their families and friends awaiting news from them; we should go and try to find them and show them our condolences and support in whatever practical way we can.”
This person was a member of a local group called “Noviolencia Activa-Grupo Gandhi” from Rota. Through a journalists from the newspaper “El Pais” we found that most of the deceased came from the same place in Morroco, a small Berber village in the Middle Atlas called Hansala. People from different towns in the Bay area decided then to organize a trip, paiyng for their own expenses, with the primary intention to hug and acccompany these Berber families in their misfortune, in their own humble houses scattered on the slopes of the rugged Atlas mountains, with no elctricity, no running water and no paved roads. They did not ask for money, nor material goods. The only thing they wanted was the bodies of their dear ones.
Since the year 2003, over 120 persons have travelled in 15 different occasions to Hansala, each individual, as we mentioned before, always paying for her/his own trip, their only goal and philosophy being to be able to share. Hansala helped to awake our consciousness and also taught us the way to solidarity.
The birht of Solidaridad Directa
This spontaneous initiative had to be organised as a requirement of the norms that regulate international cooperation. This is how “Solidarida Directa” was born, not just as another NGO but with the intention of being a true project of social participation. As of today, over 200 persons have collaborated in different activities through two subsidiary organizations, one in Morocco (“Asociación para el Progreso y la Cultura”) and the other in Spain (“Asociación de Inmigrantes de Hansala”).
In these three and a half years we have helped in the construction of certain basic infrastructures such as the building of a basic medical clinic, a school with their own solar panels,and a civic centre. Boys and girls of different ages have been given scholarships to be able to attend school or further their studies. Relativess of the victims, as well as needy families in the community, have received material aid of different source, ranging from the construction of a house for a widow of one of the ship wrecked men, to the acquisition of some livestock for people without any resources whatsoever who, as a consequence, are able now to make a living on their own.
All these are some of the projects that have been carried out in Hansala, always thanks to the volunteer work of the members of the Asociación de Hansala, the unselfish effort of all those who participate in Solidarida Directa and the cooperation of certain public institutions such as the Welfare Office of the Rota Local Council ( Area de Bienestar Social del Ayuntamiento de Rota) and the International Solidarity Department of the Provincial Government of Cádiz (Area de Solidaridad Internacional de la Diputación de Cádiz)
Hansala in our hearts.
Now that the projects mentioned above have become a reality, we feel that the young lives lost while attempting the crossing of the Straight always be in our memory and our hearts. Likewise the friends that we made in the mountains of the Berber Middle Atlas of Morroco will also remain for ever in our hearts, as we know that we are in the hearts of a people who, lacking all the material things that we possess in the so-called rich world, gave us and offered to us everything the have. It is in the process of doing this with them, and from them, that we have been able to comprehend the full meaning of solidarity.
The wreck of the “patera” in Rota opened roads that will never be closed. Fontiers still exist and walls and wire fences keep being built by the rich states of the world as a disturbing sign of a type of reason that needs self-justification and protection, but in the hearts of common people on both sides of the Straight there are now bridges built only by the deeply human concept of mutual help and freedom. We will all wish that contemporary Spain could be for these immigrants an example of democratic life and that their country could one day cease to be a country without democracy and without the current appalling inequalities that provoke such tragic situations.