Rabat – Boughaleb El Atar made history on Sunday when he was elected the first Moroccan ambassador to Cuba after almost four decades of severed ties between the two countriesThe Spanish-speaking journalist has over four decades of experience in journalism and literary and political writing including a 1981 book about the history of the Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla.El Atar’s appointment highlights a shift in Moroccan diplomacy over recent years, that has seen the kingdom extend its hand to its former foes and countries known for their strong support of the Polisario Front and its self-proclaimed Sahrawi Republic. The King and his family’s vacation to Cuba in April was highly symbolic given that in the country is one of Polisario’s staunchest supporters.Cuba has for decades been a strong ally of both Algeria and Polisario. In 1980 Morocco cut ties with Cuba when the latter recognized the separatist group.Shortly after the King’s visit, Morocco and Cuba’s United Nations representatives Omar Hilale and Aynansi Rodriguez Camejo signed an agreement in April to reestablish bilateral relations.The death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro was one of the reasons that prompted the kingdom to try to regain ties with the Caribbean nation. During the 1963 so-called “Sand War” between Morocco and the newly independent state Algeria when tension over the borders drawn by French colonization escalated into direct confrontation, Castro took the side of the latter. When he died in November 2016, Algeria announced eight days of mourning out of respect for the man Algerians saw as a friend and strong ally.The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations explained the move to be part of the kingdom’s new “proactive” foreign policy.This policy has so far proved fruitful, as King Mohammed VI this year managed to regain admission for Morocco to the African Union (AU) after 33 years of absence. Morocco originally left the AU in 1984 , after the so-called Sahrawi Republic was accepted as a member state.Morocco was eager to rejoin the union contain Polisarion inside the continental bloc , and finally did so at the end of January.The kingdom’s new foreign policy is also based on gradually building up strong relations with African countries from across the continent’s different regions, even those with former or current pro-Polisario stances.While it is too early to expect a dramatic change in Cuba’s position vis-à-vis the issue of Western Sahara, reestablishing relations is clearly a first step in Morocco’s attempts to gain a diplomatic foothold in a country that has long been one of Polisario’ strongholds.
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