Julian Pecquet is the Congressional Correspondent for Al-Monitor.
Critics of a $1 million Clinton Foundation gift see a ploy to build support for illegal exploitation of the “last colony in Africa.”
WASHINGTON — Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton is endorsing the illegal exploitation of disputed lands and risks undermining four decades of UN diplomacy by taking money from Morocco, critics say.
Clinton, who’s expected to announce her candidacy for the Democratic nomination April 12, has come under fire for accepting foreign contributions to the Clinton Foundation, most recently a $1 million donation from OCP, a fertilizer giant owned by the Moroccan government. Left unsaid in the initial reports: OCP — the Office Chérifien des Phosphates — is a major player in the exploitation of mineral resources from the Western Sahara, a disputed territory known as the “last colony in Africa” that Morocco took over after colonial power Spain abandoned it in the 1970s.
“You’ve heard of blood diamonds, but in many ways you could say that OCP is shipping blood phosphate,” Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., told Al-Monitor. “Western Sahara was taken over by Morocco to exploit its resources and this is one of the principal companies involved in that effort.”
A co-chairman of the Western Sahara Caucus and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Pitts is one of a small handful of lawmakers willing to buck Morocco, a longtime US ally that runs a massive lobbying and PR operation in Washington. On April 10, he sent a letter to the Clinton Foundation, first obtained by Al-Monitor, along with House Foreign Affairs human rights panel Chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., asking the foundation to refund the money and “discontinue its coordination with OCP.”
A spokesman for the foundation did not return an email request for comment.
At issue is OCP’s operation of a mine in the Western Sahara town of Boucraa, from which phosphate rock — a key ingredient for making fertilizer — is dumped onto the world’s longest conveyor belt to make its way toward the coast, 60 miles away. According to a 2002 legal opinion by the UN, the exploitation of natural resources from so-called non-self-governing territories such as the Western Sahara is only legal if done to benefit the local population.
OCP and Rabat have started a lobbying blitz to persuade the world that Morocco, which claims the Western Sahara as its own, is spending far more money developing the desert region than it is making from the exploitation of its natural resources.
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