Mehdi Ben Barka

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Mehdi Ben Barka (born 1920 – disappeared October 29, 1965) (Arabic: المهدي بن بركة‎) was a Moroccan politician, head of the left-wing National Union of Popular Forces (UNPF) and secretary of the Tricontinental Conference. An opponent of Hassan II, he "disappeared" in Paris in 1965. Despite countless theories attempting to explain what really happened to him, the exact circumstances of his disappearance have never been established, and as of 2009, investigations are on-going.[1]

Background[edit]

Ben Barka was born in Rabat, Morocco to a civil servant, and became the first Moroccan Muslim to get a degree in mathematics in an official French school in 1950. He became a prominent member of the Moroccan opposition in the nationalist Istiqlal Party, but broke off after clashes with conservative opponents in 1959 to found the left-wing National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP).

In 1962, Ben Barka was accused of plotting against King Hassan II. He was exiled from Morocco in 1963, after calling upon Moroccan soldiers to refuse to fight Algeria in the 1963 Sand War.[2]

On October 29, 1965, Mehdi Ben Barka was abducted ("disappeared") in Paris by French police officers and never seen again. On Dec. 29, 1975, Time magazine published an article called "The Murder of Mehdi Ben Barka", stating that three Moroccan agents were responsible for the death of Ben Barka, one of them former Interior Minister Mohammed Oufkir. Speculation persists as to CIA involvement. French intelligence agents and the Israeli Mossad were also involved, according to the article.

The exile and global political significance[edit]

Ben Barka was exiled in 1963, becoming a "travelling salesman of the revolution", according to the historian Jean Lacouture. He left initially for Algiers, where he met Che Guevara, Amílcar Cabral and Malcolm X. From there, he went to Cairo, Rome, Geneva and Havana, trying to unite the revolutionary movements of the Third World for the Tricontinental Conference held in January 1966 in Havana, where he affirmed in a press conference, "the two currents of the world revolution will be represented there: the current emerged with the October Revolution and that of the national liberation revolution".

As the leader of the Tricontinental Conference, Ben Barka was a major figure in the Third World movement and supported revolutionary anti-colonial action in various states, provoking the anger of the United States and France. Just before his death, he was preparing the first meeting of the Tricontinental, scheduled to take place in Havana, Cuba - the OSPAAAL (Spanish for "Organization for Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia and Latin America") was founded on this occasion.

Chairing the preparatory commission, he defined the objectives; assistance with the movements of liberation, support for Cuba subjected to the United States embargo, the liquidation of the foreign military bases and apartheid in South Africa. For the historian René Galissot, "The underlying reason for the removal and assassination of Ben Barka is to be found in this revolutionary impetus of Tricontinentale."

Victoria Brittain, writer for The Guardian, called Ben Barka a "revolutionary theoretician as significant as Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara", whose "influence reverberated far beyond their own continent.[3] His writings have been collected and translated in French by his son Bachir Ben Barka and published in 1999 under the title Écrits politiques (1957–1965).[4]

Theories on the disappearance of Ben Barka[edit]

French trial[edit]

In the 1960s Ben Barka's disappearance was enough of a "scandale public" that President De Gaulle formally declared his government had not been responsible. After trial in 1967, two French officers were sent to prison for their role in the kidnapping. However, the judge ruled that the main guilty party was Moroccan interior minister Mohamed Oufkir.[5] Georges Figon, a witness with a criminal background who had testified earlier that Oufkir stabbed Ben Barka to death, was later found dead, officially a suicide. Prefect of Police Maurice Papon (1910–2007), later convicted for crimes against humanity for his role under Vichy, was forced to resign following Ben Barka's kidnapping.

Ahmed Boukhari[edit]

A former member of the Moroccan secret service, Ahmed Boukhari claimed in 2001 that Ben Barka had died during interrogation in a villa south of Paris. He said Ben Barka's body was then taken back to Morocco and destroyed in a vat of acid. Furthermore, he declared that this vat of acid, whose plans were reproduced by the newspapers, had been constructed under instructions from the CIA agent "Colonel Martin", who had learnt this technique to make corpses disappear during his appointment in the Shah's Iran in the 1950s.

Ali Bourequat[edit]

Moroccan-French dissident and former Tazmamart prisoner of conscience Ali Bourequat claims in his book, In the Moroccan King's Secret Garden, to have met a former Moroccan secret agent in a prison near Rabat in 1973-74. The man, Dubail, recounted how he and some colleagues, led by Colonel Oufkir and Ahmed Dlimi, had murdered Ben Barka in Paris.

The body was then encapsulated in cement and buried outside Paris, but his head brought by Oufkir to Morocco in a suitcase. Thereafter, it was buried on the very same prison grounds where Dubail and Bourequat were held.

CIA documents[edit]

In 1976, the United States government, due to requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, acknowledged that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was in possession of some 1,800 documents involving Ben Barka, but the documents were not released.

French documents[edit]

Some secret French documents on the affair were made public in 2001, causing political uproar. Defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie had agreed in 2004 to follow the recommendations of a national defence committee and released the 73 additional classified documents on the case. However, the son of Mehdi Ben Barka was outraged at what he called a "pseudo-release of files", insisting that information had been withheld which could have implicated the French secret services (SDECE), and possibly the CIA and the Mossad, as well as the ultimate responsibility of King Hassan II, who conveniently was able to put the blame on Oufkir after his failed coup in 1972.[6]

Driss Basri[edit]

Driss Basri, Interior Minister of Hassan II and his right-hand man from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, was heard by the judge Patrick Ramaël in May 2006, as a witness, concerning Ben Barka's kidnapping. Basri declared to the magistrate that he had not been linked to the Ben Barka Affair. He added that "it is possible that the King knew. It is legitimate to think that de Gaulle possessed some information..."[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ France accused 44 years on over Moroccan's vanishing by Lizzy Davies, The Guardian, October 29, 2009
  2. ^ Karen Farsoun and Jim Paul, "War in the Sahara: 1963," MERIP Reports, No. 45 (Mar., 1976).
  3. ^ Africa: A Continent Drenched in the Blood of Revolutionary Heroes by Victoria Brittain, The Guardian, January 17, 2011
  4. ^ Mehdi Ben Barka, Écrits politiques (1957–1965), Syllepse, 1999, ISBN 2907993933
  5. ^ Spies, Nazis, gangsters and cops - the mysterious disappearance of Mehdi Ben Barka, by Clea Caulcutt, RFI English, 28 October 2010
  6. ^ Affaire Ben Barka : Driss Basri chez le juge, Le Figaro, 23 May 2006 (French)
  7. ^ French: «Je n'ai été mêlé ni de près, ni de loin, ni à l'époque, ni à aucun moment, à l'affaire qui s'est déroulée sur le sol français» explique-t-il au Figaro. «Seul un petit groupe, qui a gardé un silence total, savait. Il est possible que le roi savait. Il est légitime de penser que de Gaulle était en possession d'informations... Le problème est qu'aujourd'hui les protagonistes sont tous morts» in Affaire Ben Barka : Driss Basri chez le juge, Le Figaro, 23 May 2006 (French)

Bibliography[edit]

Filmography[edit]

  • I saw Ben Barka get killed (2005) by Serge Le Péron [1]
  • Ben Barka - The Moroccan Equation (2002) by Simone Bitton [2]

External links[edit]