by Alicia Fraerman
(IPS) MADRID --
police have yet to
detain any suspects for taking part in the rash of
violent racist attacks that began on Feb. 5 against
Arab immigrants in the Andalucian city of El Ejido,
located on the Mediterranean coast.
Continuing through Feb. 8, hundreds of people interrupted street traffic, blocked highway access to the city, torched and destroyed homes and businesses, and attacked immigrants and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The incidents were triggered on Feb. 5 with the murder of Encarnacion Lopez, age 26. The assassin, according to police sources, was a young Maghrebi (North African Arab) undergoing psychiatric treatment.
In immigrant neighborhoods, groups of rioters set homes on fire, while others broke into the offices of the Federation of Progressive Women and the NGO Almeria Acoge, throwing furniture, computers and files out the windows, then setting them ablaze.
Shops belonging to Arab immigrants were also attacked and destroyed, as were cars, restaurants and telephone booths in this city of 50,000, where more than 20 percent of the residents are immigrants.
The attackers broke through the shops' barred windows yelling "Fuera moros!" (Moors Out!), stealing money from cash registers, and looting alcoholic beverages from the pubs.
"Moro" (Moor) is a derogatory term used in Spain in reference to Arabs from North Africa in general, and to Moroccans in particular.
the El Ejido municipality, 17,000 hectares are
dedicated to agriculture, a sector that employs
most of the local immigrants.
The recent incidents were the most serious, but not the first to be reported in the province of Almeria, home to El Ejido. In 1997, two Arab-origin men were brutally beaten by an agricultural businessman, and another was attacked in a bar by a man wielding a baseball bat.
In 1998, two hooded individuals shot a Moroccan immigrant to death in El Ejido. Then, in September 1999, hundreds of immigrants took to the city's streets to protest an organized gang's systematic aggressions against them.
Two weeks ago, a Moroccan slashed the throats of two Almerian farmers in El Ejido's greenhouse farming area.
Jose Torres Hurtado, the Spanish government's delegate in Andalucia, justified the security forces' passivity saying it is preferable that the police try to prevent further confrontations between immigrants and racists than to carry out a few arrests.
While NGOs and immigrant associations demand protection for the Arabs, the city's mayor, Juan Enciso (of the center-right Popular Party -- PP) has called for more police to contain the population.
The area "is the door to Africa and it is impossible to control all of these people who enter illegally," he maintained.
The mayor and other PP leaders refer to immigrants who enter Spain without visas as "illegals." The NGOs, meanwhile, consider them "irregulars" and demand that the government grant them legal resident permits.
Armed farmers patrolled this zone of greenhouses, where most immigrants are employed. The foreign-born workers, meanwhile, sought refuge in the city's Catholic church.
The violence reached such extremes on Feb. 5 that Fernando Hermoso, the Spanish government's assistant delegate to Andalucia, was thrown to the ground by a group of racists who then kicked him repeatedly, including in the head. This incident did not result in any arrests either.
Esteban Ibarra, president of the Movement against Intolerance, said the mayor's criticisms of the Law on Foreigners, passed in December, were "irresponsible." The legislation is intended to facilitate the legalization of all immigrants in Spain.
Ibarra added that the situation must avoid giving voice to opportunists (in allusion to the El Ejido mayor) who launch "proclamations of xenophobia, exclusion and conflict."
Mustafa el Marabet, spokesman for the Moroccan Workers Association of Spain (ATIME), pointed out that even if the man accused in the crime against Encarnacion Lopez is proven guilty, the 150,000 Moroccans working in Spain cannot all be considered his accomplices.
El Marabet affirmed that the crime "has given more than one person an excuse to attack anyone who 'smells like a Moroccan.'"
The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, denies any passivity in the matter and reports it has sent 700 additional police to El Ejido to establish peace.
February 13, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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