Alberto Suárez Sutil
Ángel Víctor Torres, President of the Canary Islands, will finally visit Morocco on 15 and 16 March. Finally, because there was speculation that he might make the trip after the High Level Meeting (RAN) between Spain and Morocco that took place at the beginning of February. The Canary Islands share geographical proximity to Morocco, pending issues regarding the delimitation of the maritime median, strong popular support for the Sahrawi cause, but also a notable presence of Canary Islands companies interested in the potential for tourism and renewable energy.
The Canarian political class hoped that the interests of the archipelago – Rabat’s control of irregular immigration to the Canaries, the delimitation of waters between the islands and Morocco, and the Western Sahara conflict – would be on the table. Such demands were not met in the RAN. As a result, the Canarian political parties, with the exception of the PSOE, branded the RAN as a failure, with criticisms that spoke of a sense of exclusion of the Canary Islands by the central government. However, the criticisms overlooked the fact that the RAN are meetings between two states where issues that go beyond the interests of the Canary Islands are discussed: Spain and Morocco share a fruitful anti-terrorist cooperation that transcends the Canary Islands, as well as strong trade links. If they had wanted to take regional needs into consideration, they would have invited the regional presidents not only of the Canary Islands, but also of Andalusia and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which are geographically closer to Morocco than the Canary Islands and have more pressing interests in irregular immigration and trade due to their proximity to Morocco.
Although there is still a month to go before the visit of the president of the Canary Islands to Morocco, it does not hurt to clear up some doubts as to whether this is the first time a president of the Canary Islands – part of Spain – has visited Morocco and the challenges he will face and the appropriateness of the visit in an election year in the Canary Islands and Spain.
It is not the first time that a president of the Canary Islands has visited Morocco
All the presidents of the Canary Islands, regardless of their political colour, have visited Morocco, with the socialist Jerónimo Saavedra being the first in 1987 and Fernando Clavijo of Coalición Canaria the last in 2019. The fact that all the presidents of an autonomous community have visited a country with which Spain has had ups and downs in its bilateral relations confirms that the Canary Islands maintains good relations with Morocco regardless of Spanish-Moroccan tensions. Perhaps the clearest proof of the good relations between the Canary Islands and Morocco is the book ‘Canarias: Plataforma Estratégica en las Relaciones entre España y Marruecos’ (Canary Islands: Strategic Platform in Spanish-Moroccan Relations) published in 2019. In it, Canarian representatives from politics, the two Canarian universities and trade together with their Moroccan counterparts explained the links between the Canary Islands and Morocco and the potential for the Canary Islands to strengthen such links in the areas described above. That such a book appeared when the then president of the Canary Islands was a nationalist and not a socialist, as now in 2023, shows that the political colour governing the Canary Islands is not an impediment to closer ties with Morocco. Especially if we take into account that in 2019 – albeit to a lesser extent than now – irregular immigration and the Sahrawi cause were still present as issues to be resolved in relations between the Canary Islands and Morocco.
The challenges of this visit: strengthening commercial ties and the image of the Canary Islands in Morocco
Ángel Víctor Torres’ visit will have an economic profile. It is expected that he will be accompanied by a delegation of businessmen, although the exact composition of the business delegation that will accompany him on his trip to Morocco has yet to be determined. It is quite likely that he will be accompanied by the presidents of the Canary Islands Chambers of Commerce and businessmen from the tourism and renewable energy sectors, both markets of great mutual interest due to the Canary Islands’ knowledge of the former and the potential of solar and wind energy in the Maghreb as vectors for exchanging knowledge and boosting the use of renewable energies in the Canary Islands and Morocco. The commercial nature of the visit will make it highly unlikely that Ángel Víctor will fly the flag of sovereignty during his visit to Morocco, as some would have it, given his defence of Canary Islands interests in the negotiation of the maritime median with Morocco. Nor will he go to Morocco to defend the Canary Islands’ right to remain part of Spain, since Rabat’s plans do not include the annexation of the archipelago. It would be a good thing if Ángel Víctor were to be received by Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, as happened in 2019 between the then president of the Canary Islands and his Moroccan counterpart. Such a gesture would dispel accusations of Morocco’s lack of respect for the Canary Islands, as occurred with the absence of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI during the RAN, a gesture exploited by the opposition to underline Spain’s weakness in its relations with Morocco. The Moroccan king is not expected to receive the president of the Canary Islands as he is not a head of state, although Mohammed VI dominates many aspects of Moroccan politics.
Ángel Víctor Torres’s visit to Morocco will take place two months before the regional elections in the Canary Islands. His presidency is at stake in these elections, and it is certain that he will be accused of visiting Morocco for electioneering purposes. A recent example was his visit to the Canary Islands communities in Cuba and Venezuela. Both Latin American countries have a strong presence of Canarian descendants and vice versa (many Cubans and Venezuelans live in the Canaries). Although other presidents have visited both countries before, it is true that the visit to both this year can be interpreted as an effort to win the vote of the Canary Islands diaspora in order to secure his presidency until 2027. The visit to Morocco may have the same effect in the sense of winning the vote of the Canarian business sector, thus complicating the chances of presenting the visit as something already done by his predecessors regardless of the prevailing political climate at the regional and national level. This may result in a loss of votes from people who see the visit as a gesture of submission to Morocco.
In conclusion, the president of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, will visit Morocco on 15 and 16 March, unless there is a last-minute change. Although this is not the first time that a president of this autonomous community has visited Morocco, it is true that the bad taste left by the RAN between Spain and Morocco at the beginning of February will influence the assessment of the Canary Islands’ political class. The dates chosen for the visit, in an election year, will raise criticism of its use by Ángel Víctor Torres to secure another term in office, like his recent tour of Canary Islands communities in Cuba and Venezuela. The development of the trip will be key to determining whether it is a success or a failure and its possible electoral use. It is only to be hoped that no setbacks within both parties will cancel the visit, thus damaging Canary-Moroccan relations.
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