The dramatic arrival of thousands of irregular migrants from Morocco on Spanish shores has put the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on high alert. The Socialist Party (PSOE) leader canceled a trip to Paris on Tuesday and flew down to Ceuta, after having stated earlier in the day that “territorial integrity” would be defended after more than 7,000 people swam to the North African Spanish city from Morocco between Monday and Tuesday.
Speaking today at a news conference in La Moncloa prime ministerial palace, Sánchez opened the door to using any means necessary to guarantee the security of the country’s borders, as well as promising that the integrity of Spain’s territory was not at risk.
Sánchez did not play down the severity of what he described as an “unheard of” crisis in Ceuta, and which also affected Spain’s other North African city of Melilla, albeit to a much lesser extent. But he did refrain from directly attacking Morocco, instead calling for the country to resolve the crisis like good neighbors “out of respect for territorial integrity.”
“The territorial integrity of the borders of Ceuta and Melilla,” he said, “which are also EU borders, will be defended at all moments by the Spanish government, under any circumstance and with all of the necessary measures.” His tone suggested that this was a much more serious incident than the many immigration crises that Spain has had to deal with over recent years.
Thousands of people began to illegally arrive in Ceuta on Monday, swimming from the neighboring city of Fnideq, which is on the border of the breakwater that demarks the exclave city from Morocco. Other migrants used rudimentary swimming boards to make it to Spain from the Moroccan city, also known as Castillejos, and which is home to around 7,000 people.
The migrants entered via Tarajal beach and the area of Benzú. One person died in the crossing. Moroccan authorities made no effort to stop the wave of arrivals and the Moroccan government remained silent on the issue on Monday.
The situation in North Africa comes after weeks of rising tensions between Morocco and Spain. The diplomatic row began in April when Moroccan intelligence services found out that Brahim Gali, the 73-year-old founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front), had been admitted under a false name to a hospital in the Spanish city of Logroño when he was suffering from Covid-19. The Polisario Front is a liberation movement by the Sahrawi people and is outlawed in the parts of Western Sahara under Moroccan control.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska defended the move, requested by Algeria, “for strictly humanitarian reasons.” The Moroccan Foreign Affairs Ministry, however, lambasted the decision, calling it an affront to the spirit of “association and good neighborliness,” and threatened Spain with reprisals.
Speaking on the state broadcaster TVE on Tuesday morning, Grande-Marlaska said that the migrants “are people who entered Spain illegally. We must prevent or else return these people due to their illegal entry.”
The Spanish government was on Tuesday unwilling to publicly speak about the causes of the crisis, and refused to link Morocco’s actions to the situation involving Brahim Gali. But the fact that this key ally, to which Sánchez has paid special attention, is allowing thousands of young men and adolescents to swim into Ceuta has the executive deeply concerned.
Since Monday, Sánchez has been engaging in all kinds of diplomatic maneuvers to pressure Morocco and convince them to stem the wave of immigrants that were surrounding the border fence in Ceuta on Tuesday and threatening to breach it at any moment. The prime minister also spoke to the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, as well as the European Council president, Charles Michel.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, voiced her “solidarity” with Spain on Tuesday in a message posted on Twitter. “Europe expresses its solidarity with Ceuta and Spain,” she wrote. “We need common European solutions to manage migration.”
Sánchez also spoke with the Spanish king, Felipe VI, and with opposition Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado, a reflection of the severity of the crisis. Via a statement from the PP, Casado adopted a measured tone and avoided criticizing Sánchez directly for the chain of events. The PP called on the prime minister to normalize the situation and guarantee territorial integrity. The conservative party is in power in Ceuta, and its premier, Juan Jesús Vivas, is in permanent contact with Casado and has also spoken to Sánchez.
There is particular concern in La Moncloa over the actions of the far-right Vox party, which is the third-largest group in the Congress of Deputies and has also made great gains in recent years in regional and local administrations. The group is using the images of the migrants to share messages speaking about an “invasion” and accompanied by other xenophobic claims.
In response, government spokesperson María Jesús Montero said that the executive “wants to convey a clear and resounding message against xenophobic messages that criminalize immigrants. The last thing we need to do is fan flames of hate and fear. We are calling for responsible behavior.”
For his part, Grande-Marlaska explained on Tuesday that Spain is rapidly moving to return some of the immigrants who entered Ceuta, but the situation was far from under control and the images that were being broadcast on Spanish television on Monday and Tuesday had the Cabinet very concerned.
Sources from the Spanish government – a coalition of the PSOE and junior partner Unidas Podemos – explained on Tuesday that Morocco is going through a very difficult economic situation due to the pandemic, something that has prompted more migrant arrivals from the country in the Canary Islands in recent months, for example. But this latest crisis in Ceuta – which has a population of just under 85,000 people – was completely unexpected.
Before the founder of the Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, left his role as deputy prime minister – subsequently leaving politics altogether – the left-wing politician had called for a referendum on the issue of Western Sahara. These words did not go down well in Morocco, but the situation was soon smoothed over by a different approach from the PSOE members of the coalition government.
Links to Gaza
However, the situation soon spun out of control once the country took the decision to take in the leader of the Polisario Front. That said, the imbalance between a humanitarian decision to treat someone who was sick and allowing thousands of youngsters to risk their lives at sea is also of great concern to the Spanish government, which on Tuesday was opting to avoid publicly linking the two incidents.
The ongoing crisis in Gaza could also have had an effect, government sources said, because the decision by Morocco to establish relations with Israel in exchange for the United States recognizing the former’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is controversial at home at a time when Israel is bombing the Gaza Strip – something that is causing anger among the Moroccan population.
Whatever the case, the strongest hypothesis as to why this has happened is linked to Brahim Gali. On Tuesday, the Spanish government was trusting that international pressure, in particular from the EU, would see Morocco shift course. But if not, Sánchez made clear that he would do whatever is needed to protect the border.
English version by Simon Hunter.
Zebras, giraffes … and a cycle race through the Maasai Mara | Global development
In the world of long-distance running, east Africans have long been the dominant force, and soon they may also be setting the pace in the whitest of elite sports: cycling. This month, the Migration Gravel Race (MGR) brought together 100 of the world’s top cyclists in a four-day showdown on the rocky, red dirt roads of Kenya’s Maasai Mara. With a third of the entrants from east Africa, it was a rare opportunity for the region’s riders to show they can rival the best.
“Cycling is a very Eurocentric sport,” says Mikel Delagrange, the prime mover behind the event. “In over 100 years of the world championship, only three athletes outside of Europe have ever won, and they came from the US and Australia.”
For 11 years, Delagrange, a human rights lawyer, worked mostly in central and east Africa, for the international criminal court in The Hague. He quit last year and now works with the UN in Palestine.
“The obstacle for east African riders is that they lack access to international competition,” he says. “You might be the best in your neighbourhood but you won’t progress if you’re only beating people in your neighbourhood.
“But if we send an east African to an international race, we’re spending an unbelievable amount of money on visas because everyone thinks they’re a migrant, then on flights, plus staying in Europe is prohibitively expensive for most.
“After a lot of consultation, we thought: instead of clawing at the door, why don’t we bring international competition here?”
Against a backdrop of acacias and euphorbia candelabra trees, amid the zebras, giraffes, impalas and wildebeest of the savannah, the four-day race takes riders along 650km of rough roads, climbing above 3,000 metres. Each day, before the course is cleared by Maasai motorcycle sweepers, dressed in their traditional red plaid blankets, a helicopter goes ahead to check for elephants and buffalo.
“What Mikel is doing is giving east African riders a home-based platform, not a European one,” says Kenyan cyclist David Kinjah. “They get a chance to compete against the best, in their country.”
Organising a travelling band of 100 cyclists in a region that lacks infrastructure is a challenge. All the logistics, from security to cooking to building the campsites, is done with support from local Maasai.
Last year, Delagrange set up the Amani team – eight men and four women from the top cycling clubs in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. “Amani has changed my life, but not just mine,” says Suleiman Kangangi, 33, a Kenyan cyclist. “This is a big deal for east African riders. We selected the best for this race, and they know there’s something to aim for.”
Nancy Akinyi, 32, another Kenyan cyclist, says: “It’s not just about bringing these people here to compete, it’s to prepare these young riders for what could be their future if they excel. Thanks to Amani, we can send riders from east Africa and show we can do it. If you go to the world championship, you don’t see black people there.
“Amani is special because now black people can see that we can be pros. It’s unusual to see people from the northern part of Africa – I’m going to say black people – doing so well,” she says.
“It started here in east Africa, but now I get emails from women in Congo, Tanzania and even Lesotho who say they want to join the team.”
Non-African riders, who include big names such as Lachlan Morton from Australia, Italian cyclist Mattia de Marchi and Lael Wilcox from the US, paid €1,250 (£1,075) to enter, some of which goes towards funding the Amani team.
Everyone is racing for fun and glory; there is no prize money.
“The Europeans didn’t expect the African riders would be so tough to beat,” says Kinjah. “When we compete in Europe, everything is different: the food, the language, the roads. This affects your performance.”
The home advantage changes the odds. On the eve of the first stage, Delagrange thanks the non-Africans for coming, then adds: “Just for a change, you’re going to be the people who stand out and don’t speak the language.”
The fast-growing sport of gravel racing, essentially putting mountain bike tyres on high-end €10,000 road bikes, is more open and democratic than road racing. Like a marathon, anyone can line up with the best.
“What you have here – where you can sit around the campfire after a race and chat with people from all walks of life, make new friends and also hammer each other for five hours on the road every day – that doesn’t exist in the majority of races,” says Morton, who finished fifth overall, behind three Amani riders. “It’s an experience that’s so much more fulfilling. I’d come back in a heartbeat.
“In an event like this, the bullshit fades away. It’s like, here’s the start line, here’s the finish, go for it. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, we’re all going to sleep in tents and we’re all going to eat the same food, so let’s get on with it.”
Wilcox, who once rode 3,000km from her home in Anchorage, Alaska, to reach the start line of the 4,500km Tour de Canada, and then broke the women’s record by four days, is another fan: “It’s cool that there’s a really good women’s field here. They’ve put a lot of effort into inviting women and making them feel like they belong. It’s good to see.”
Juliet Elliott, a 44-year-old cycling pro, says: “A race like this, where we all race together but there are separate podiums, that’s pretty cool. If I’d had to do road races against guys, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but gravel is more open. In these long-distance disciplines, women tend to do better.”
Delagrange says they had the good luck to be ready with a concrete proposal when the Black Lives Matter movement made some realise that “racial disparity is a thing, and continues to be”. There was some overdue reflection in cycling, he says, and many “were looking for a fig leaf to cover how white the sport is. We acted as a hub for corporations to know where to direct their resources.”
He believes the industry is beginning to understand that it’s not diverse enough to be considered an international sport. “Imagine if running was still just Roger Bannister. We aren’t pushing the limits of human capability. Without allowing the rest of the world to play this game, we still don’t know what can be done on a bike.”
The idea that east African cyclists can hold their own against the best was entirely vindicated. Amani’s John Kariyuki was the overall winner over the four stages. Two of his teammates, Jordan Schleck Ssekanwagi and Kangangi, came third and fourth. Fifteen of the top 20 finishers were Africans.
Distance rider Marin de Saint Exupéry, from Switzerland, says it’s the first time he’s raced against Africans. “I can’t keep up with this pace,” he says. “I was really attracted to the idea of this project, and met some of the team when they came to Switzerland last year. We shouldn’t need a project like this, but we do.”
Kinjah, 51, who finished 14th, believes many sporting projects in Africa fail because they have a European mentality and don’t understand the culture. “This project is different because they take the best from several countries,” he says. “They bring unity by putting these good riders in one team. Some of these guys have never been in the Maasai Mara or seen an elephant. Now they are having an adventure in their own country – and racing against the best in the world.”
“The scale is small,” Delagrange admits. “Right now, we have 12 athletes whose lives we’d like to improve through opportunities. We’re trying to make it easier for those outside east Africa to invest in great human beings. Maybe we will have those breakout athletes who will change the face of cycling. You’ve got to start somewhere.
“I think many Europeans still cling to a LiveAid mentality. People saw a bunch of things in the 80s, and they’re, like: OK, that’s what Africa is like. If you always see people in a disempowered position, it will reinforce your subconscious view of them. But when people come and meet athletes who kick their ass, they don’t see disempowered people, they see real competitors.
“Hopefully, after four days, they go home with a different view of what Africa is about.”
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Amado Carrillo Fuentes: Mexico raffles off luxurious narco-mansion | International
It has been a hideout for crooks, a film set, and the headquarters of a foundation. In late June, a luxurious mansion once owned by Amado Carrillo Fuentes became the top prize in Mexico’s national lottery. The former Juárez cartel boss known as the Lord of the Skies (El Señor de los Cielos) built this US$4.5 million home in Jardines del Pedregal, an exclusive neighborhood south of Mexico City. The two-story residence measures more than 10,000 square feet, and has an indoor pool, expansive gardens, and enough garage space for 30 cars. The enormous home boasts a bar with a wine cellar, nine bedrooms; six Jacuzzis, numerous closets and dressing rooms, a huge kitchen, a steam room, a library, and a life-size playhouse for children. And for the price of a US$10 cachito, as lottery tickets are called in Mexico, some lucky player had a chance to win the opulent mega-mansion.
Lottery administrators put three million numbers up for grabs, but the tepid response from the public meant that multiple numbers had to be picked before one came up a winner. Suspense built as losing numbers came up again and again. “That number isn’t a winner, so we’ll try again. Good luck!” said the announcer 16 times. Almost 25 minutes later, the winning number was picked on the 17th try.
“How would you like a house in Jardines del Pedregal?” tempted the commercials. “I can already picture myself living there!” a woman replies enthusiastically. “Or you could sell it,” suggested the announcer. The property has long been a headache for the Mexican government. It was first auctioned in May 2020 by the “Instituto para Devolver al Pueblo Lo Robado”, a government agency created by Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador to liquidate assets seized from criminal organizations and corrupt officials. The auction hoped to raise at least US$2.6 million pesos for the house, but the best offer was US$2.47 million, from a mysterious man in a gray suit who raised his paddle amid cheers from the attendees. “I want US$2.5 million! Who says yes?” asked the auctioneer, as he anxiously counted to three. In the end, no one wanted to pay more. Then, the auction winner never paid up.
Seized in January 1995 from Carrillo two years before his death, the mansion became a white elephant, a prize nobody wanted. The drug kingpin had amassed a fortune by transporting huge quantities of drugs with his fleet of airplanes. Although his main center of operations was in the border city of Ciudad Juárez (Mexico), the Lord of the Skies owned properties all over the country. Wanted by authorities in Argentina, Colombia, the United States, and Mexico, Carrillo underwent several cosmetic surgeries to change his appearance and evade his pursuers. He died during a botched procedure in 1997. A television series about his life has become an international hit on streaming platforms and is getting ready to film its eighth season.
The white elephant raffle came about when the Mexican government wearied of the expensive maintenance, which included US$25,000 for security services. Photos of the mansion used to promote the raffle show that Carrillo’s palace has seen better days. “We’re doing this to support the Mexican people and help our neighbors,” said President López when he announced the raffle in early June. “There are a lot of abandoned public assets scattered around various government agencies,” said the president, “and they will go to ruin if not maintained properly.”
The narco-mansion is listed on the internet as the former headquarters of a foundation that trains unemployed and disabled people so they can find work. It was rented in 2003 for the filming of Man on Fire, a movie starring Denzel Washington, who plays a bodyguard trying to rescue a nine-year-old girl (Dakota Fanning), and destroys half of Mexico City in the process. When the movie came out, there were rumors in the press about underground tunnels connecting the property to other nearby houses in the area, but no mention of this was made in the promotional material for the raffle.
The raffle also included 200 lots of land in Playa Espiritu, a failed tourism development project in Sinaloa (Mexico) that cost more than US$100 million. The value of each lot ranges from US$40,000-US$65,000. “It was a fraud,” admitted President López in October 2021. His lackluster sales pitch included statements like, “It isn’t in a great location,” and “Nobody wants to buy it.” The highest praise the president could muster was, “It has a beach.” The raffle also includes US$2.9 million in cash prizes.
After being seized, borrowed, and auctioned, the mansion that once belonged to the notorious Lord of the Skies will finally have a new owner–winning ticket number 339,357–but the ticketholder’s identity will not be made public.
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