Misc 02/01/2021

Spanish responsibility in the Yemeni massacre

Madrid authorizes $430 million in arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Isa Ferrero
3 min
Spanish responsibility in the Yemeni massacre

Activist and author of 'Negociar con asesinos. Guerra y crisis en Yemen'The United Nations has been warning for months that there is a deadly threat of famine affecting millions of people in Yemen. On November 20, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that "Yemen is in imminent danger of experiencing the worst famine the world has seen in decades".

These reports do not generate many headlines, despite the fact that Spain, like other European powers and the United States, supported the military intervention of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has been characterized by indiscriminate bombings against civilian population to impose a blockade by land, sea and air on the poorest country in the region and to destroy a state that "has almost disappeared", in the words of researcher Leyla Hamad Zahonero.

The governments in Spain have supported this aggression from the beginning. Felipe VI immediately endorsed the military intervention and, months later, Mariano Rajoy's government sold weapons to the Saudis. Government and monarchy have worked in favor of big interests of Spanish companies, as it is demonstrated by the mega-contract of more than 6,500 million euros of the Mecca high-speed train.

The first factor that explains the deterioration of the humanitarian crisis is the new escalation in the fighting. From 1 January to 12 December 2020, more than 18,800 people have died in combat. According to the UN, there are currently 48 identifiable fronts in Yemen, compared to the 33 of the beginning of the year. United Nations diplomacy has again failed even in the city of Hodeidah, where there is another escalation, despite the agreement at the end of 2018.

In addition, the population has suffered heavy flooding that has caused more than 300,000 people to move in just a few months, and has also seen a sharp devaluation of the currency (more than 70% in these war years), a fall in remittances and the arrival of the coronavirus in a country where the health system is practically collapsed, as demonstrated by its inability to deal with cholera epidemics. Eva Erill, from Solidarity Across Borders, who has been fighting against the tragedy in Yemen for years, recalls that "it is not only cholera and covid-19, it is also dengue, diphtheria and malaria".

Today, more than 24 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. The situation is critical, not only because of the blockade, but also because the Houthis have been hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid. In the face of this worsening humanitarian crisis, the West's response could not have been worse: UN appeals have been ignored since this summer and the necessary humanitarian funds are not being sent, making the disaster even worse.

The figures speak for themselves: within days of the end of the year only half of the funds required had been raised despite the fact that the same plan had already been cut by 20% this year. There is currently $1.7 billion left to be sent, a figure lower than that of the famous five corvettes contract that Spain is building for Saudi Arabia. Warships are being sold to the same country that has made a sea blockade on Yemen and has used hunger as a weapon of war.

In these years of conflict, while the Spanish government has authorised the sale of arms worth more than 1.2 billion euros to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, humanitarian aid has amounted to little more than 3 million euros. The new government has not solved this deficit and the aid sent in 2020 does not reach 400,000 euros at the moment, a figure that contrasts with the 430 million euros in armaments that the government of Pedro Sánchez authorised in 2019 in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. On this point, on 21 December the PSOE once again turned its back on Yemen by presenting a compromise so as not to commit to a proposal presented by Unidas Podemos with the support of ERC and EH Bildu. The text urged the government to send immediate humanitarian aid to meet "the demands expressed by human rights organisations" that have been calling for years for a halt to the sale of arms to countries that kill civilians in Yemen.

"They are being starved to death"

Mark Lowcock, UN humanitarian emergency manager, summed it up clearly: "The Yemeni population is not hungry, they are starving". To continue as before means to continue not making diplomatic efforts to bring about peace, and to continue to sell weapons to countries that have been bombing civilians indiscriminately for almost six years. There is a moral responsibility for having prioritized economic interests in what, according to international bodies, has been for years the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world. Spanish ex-king Juan Carlos' exile in the Arab Emirates has once again highlighted these relations, but it has not served to rethink the priorities of Spanish foreign policy in a war in which nearly 300,000 people may have died.