The World at War

Spanish Sahara 1859-1975

Spanish Sahara Timeline

1859October 22 Morocco cedes Ifni, a 1,000 square kilometer enclave, to Spain under terms of the Treaty of Tangiers but Spanish administration remains nominal until 1934.
1860March 25 & April 26 Spain and Morocco sign accords under which, "His Majesty, the Sultan of Morocco is committed to grant in perpetuity on the coast of the ocean at Santa Cruz del Mar Pequena sufficient territory for the formation of an establishment like that which Spain had there previously".
1861November 20 The Sultan of Morocco marks the signing of the Spanish-Moroccan commerce treaty by declaring that his power over the inhabitants of Uad Sus is very precarious and that he cannot facilitate the establishment of the Spanish fishery along the coast of Santa Cruz del Mar Pequena. Prince Muley Abbas of Morocco further declares that the local caid, Mohamed Ibn Beiruk, is independent in fact and that he can do nothing against him.
1864July Catalan explorer Joaquin Gatell makes a trip to the Tecna country
1866July 12 The Emir of the Adrar yields the, "country of Iyil", or Rio de Oro, whose coast is delimited between Cape Blanco and Cape Boujador.
1870Mohamed Ibn Beiruk demands Spanish recognition of his sovereign power over the coast of the Sahara.
1877September 16 La Asociación Española para la Exploración de Africa (The Spanish Association for the Exploration of Africa) is formed in Madrid under the presidency of King Alfonso XII.
During the Year The Spanish fishing vessels Aventura and Manuela are attacked by Saharawi pirates and several groups of sailors are held hostage.
1879Donald Mackenzie of the Northwest Africa Company establishes a trading post at Cape Juby, which he names Port Victoria, under an agreement with Mohamed Ibn Beiruk. Port Victoria operates until 1882.
1880La Sociedad de Pesquerías Canario-Africana (the Canaries African Fisheries Company) is formed.
1881Spain signs accords with the sheiks of the Ulad Delim, the Moors of Rio de Oro and the Mauritanian Adrar. The occupation of the Saharan hinterland called, “Spanish” will not become effective until 1936.
1883February 9 The Hispano-African Mercantile Company is formed by Spanish Premier Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. The Company anchors the Ines, a warehouse on pontoons, off the Rio de Oro coast.
1884July Captain Emilio Bonelli Hernando charters the schooner Ceres, under Pedro de la Fuente, at Tenerife in the Canary Islands to carry an expedition to Rio de Oro. The Hispano-African Company sponsors the mission in order to cover for the Spanish State, If Bonelli is successful, the coast in facing the Canary Islands will be under Spanish control, If not, the Spanish State can blame the adventurism of a private company.
November 3 Emilio Bonelli Hernando lands at Rio de Oro where the Hispano-African Company’s pontoon trading post Ines is anchored. Bonelli orders the construction of a wood house and hoists the Spanish flag near the cliffside which he has chosen as the site of Villa Cisneros.
November 28 Emilio Bonelli signs a treaty of protection with the Arab chieftains of Rio de Oro.
December 26 A Spanish royal decree proclaims a protectorate over the African coast between Cape Blanco and Cape Boujador.
1885March 9 Ulad Bu Amau tribesmen attack the Hispano-American Company’s post at Villa Cisneros. Storekeeper Serafin Ferlus, his assistant Pedro Sanchez and two sailors from the schooner Ceres are killed. The Ines is looted and burnt.
March 10 Ulad bu Sboa tribesmen under Sid Ahmed El Vali es Shai drive the Ulad Bu Amau from Villa Cisneros and protect the surviving Spaniards.
May 26 A military garrison for Rio de Oro is organized by General Staff Captain Jose Chacon. Chacon commands Lieutenants of Artillery Estanislao Brotons and of Infantry Javier Manzano, a sergeant, 3 corporals, a bugler and 20 artillerymen.
June 9 Captain Jose Chacon’s garrison arrives in Rio de Oro from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
July 5 Premier Canovas del Castillo informs the Minister for War that Emilio Bonelli, in addition to military pay, will receive any funds needed for other expenses based on his position as Director of the Hispano-African Company. Occupation of the Spanish Sahara cost the State only 7,500 pesetas that were taken from secret accounts at the disposition of the Premier’s office.
July 10 Emilio Bonelli is appointed Royal Commissioner for West Africa.
August 26 Emilio Bonelli arrives in Rio de Oro with a small detachment of troops from Tenerife.
December Spain restores order in Cape Blanco with the aid of Sid Ahmed El Vali es Shai.
1886March – April Jose Alvarez Perez leads an expedition sponsored by La Sociedad Española de Geografía Comercial to the interior of the Spanish Sahara between Cape Boujador and the Rio Draa. Alvarez Perez signs treaties of protection with the leaders of the Izarguien and Ait Musa U Ali tribes, Embarek Uld Mohammed and Mohammed Uld Bellal.
May 14 An expedition led by Captain of Engineers Julio Cervera, naturalist Francisco Quiroga and Arab scholar Felipe Rizzo Rizzo arrives in Rio de Oro. The party penetrates the interior, crosses the Tiris and eventually reaches at the salt mines of Iyil.
June 16 The Spanish Foreign Ministry accepts Emilio Bonelli’s resignation as Royal Commissioner for West Africa so that he might conduct new explorations in the Gulf of Guinea.
July Spain declares, "All the territories between the coast of the our possessions on the Atlantic, from Cape Boujador to Cape Blanco and the western limit of Adrak, belong to Spain from this date".
July A treaty is signed with Amhed Uld Mohammed Uld Aidda, Emir of Adrar t Tmarr, to put his tribe under the protection of the Spanish Government.
September 13 Mohamed el Madanni, an ex-soldier in the Rif Rifle Company, departs Villa Cisneros for Ceuta accompanied by Sid Ahmed El Vali es Shai.
1894March 5 The Sultan of Morocco signs a preliminary agreement with Spain for the cession of Cape Juby.
1895February 24 The Sultan of Morocco cedes Cape Juby to Spain.
March 13 An Anglo-Moroccan Agreement hands the Northwest Africa Company’s post at Cape Juby over to Morocco in exchange for £50,000.
1899Moroccan troops battle Saharawi tribes at Daora.
1900June 27 A Franco-Spanish Convention establishes the southern border of Spanish Sahara with Mauritania.
1901April 12 A royal decree places administration of the territories between Cape Boujador and Cape Blanco under the Spanish Ministry of State.
1903July 30 A Consultative Council for the Spanish possessions in West Africa is created.
1907June 29 The Governor of the Spanish Saharan colonies Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Bens Argandoña leads an expedition to the interior from Cape Juby.
1912November 27 A Franco-Spanish Convention further demarcates the borders between Spanish Sahara and Mauritania.
1914August 26 The German armed merchantman Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse is sunk by the British cruiser HMS Highflyer in a battle off Rio de Oro.
1916July 29 Governor Francisco Bens occupies Cape Juby with the help of the Saharawi tribes and plans the occupation of Ifni.
1920November 29 Spain occupies La Aguera for use as a military air base.
1921Louis Delrieu makes a series of test flights between Casablanca and the Canary Islands via Agadir and Cape Juby for Latecoere Airlines in a FBA 17 seaplane. The discovery of military fortifications at Cape Juby is taken as a sign of less than friendly attitudes towards the French enterprise.
1922Latecoere Airlines hires Joseph Roig to negotiate landing rights for a proposed airmail route linking France and Senegal with the natives and the somewhat reticent Spanish military authorities. Roig visits the Canary Islands where he convinces the Captain General to order his subordinates in the Sahara to show a more favorable attitude towards the French enterprise.
1923Joseph Roig travels to Cape Juby where he convinces the Governor of the Spanish colonies in the Sahara, Colonel Francisco Bens, to authorize Latecoere Airlines’ flights. Roig inspects prospective landing fields in Cape Juby and Villa Cisneros. He recruits people who could be useful in maintaining the never excessively warm relationship with the Spanish military administrators. One, Francisco Cervera, an open Francophile and retired Spanish Army captain living in Cape Juby, helps sway Colonel Bens. Roig charters a schooner in the Canary Islands on which he transports the necessary supplies, especially fuel cans, water tanks, etc... to the landing fields.
1924The colony of Rio de Oro is renamed Spanish Sahara and incorporates La Aguera.
1925Spanish occupation of the Sahara is limited to a few hundred soldiers posted to the ports of Cape Juby, Villa Cisneros and La Aguera.
June 1 Latecoere Airlines inaugurates airmail service on the Casablanca-Dakar route with stops on Spanish territory at Cape Juby and Villa Cisneros.
1927March The Spanish government decides to establish military aviation squadrons in the Sahara with detachments in Villa Cisneros and Cape Juby. The facilities of Latecoere Airlines are expropriated but the line is allowed to continue using them.
April Latécoère Airlines becomes la Compagnie Generale Aeropostale.
1928Antoine de Saint Exupery is appointed director of operations for La Compagnie Generale Aeropostale at Cape Juby, publishes his first book, Courrier-Sud (Southern Mail), and flies the Casablanca - Dakar route.
1931 - 1935 Captain Francisco Perez Perez, residing in La Aguera as civil and military Governor of Rio de Oro, makes three trips to the interior of the Sahara desert by car accompanied by a mechanic. He visits the nomadic tribes of the area and creates a map of the zone.
1932January A Spanish newspaper asks, "French Penetration into Rio de Oro for security or towards at protectorate?" expressed his fears ironically. A French journalist proposes the, "taking of the zone" by France: "... lease... with the payment of a royalty."
The Bulletin of the Committee for French Africa calls for the Sahara to be delimited by Franco-Spanish convention of 1900.
A Spanish journal, Azione Coloniale, reports that Madrid plans to discuss the, "price of particular advantages", and placing, "weak Spanish garrisons at Cape Juby, Villa Cisneros and La Aguera ", in, “French hands.”
January 3 A Spanish journalist, writing in regards to French comments following the Chaimam raid of September 1931, "the French press can see that there is, for Spain, a problem much more serious than preventing, as France requires it, in the immense territory, the formation of harkas and preparation of attacks against the French stations...."
1933October The Ulad Delim ask Spain to occupy the interior which has come under attack from French troops pursuing Mauritanian rebels seeking refuge there.
December 29 Mohamed Ben Youssef ben El Hassan signs a Decree in name of the Sultan of Morocco Mohamed V and awards Captain Francisco Perez Perez the Order of Ouissam Alaouite for being the first European to enter the desert with sole aim of visiting the nomadic tribes of the interior and to show his desires for peace and concord with them.
1934April 6 Spanish troops under Colonel Osvaldo Capaz occupy Ifni without firing a shot. Sidi Ifni becomes the administrative capital of Spanish possessions in the Sahara.
June 9 The Ifni Rifle Battalion (Tiradores de Ifni) is formed.
June 19 The Spanish resident at La Aguera reports that the French are succeeding in their fight against Mauritanian rebels. The French depopulate northern Mauritania to concentrate the population near the border with Senegal. The Mauritanians steal cattle and force the Ulad Delim and Erguibat to seek French protection.
June 24 France offers to make peace with the Ulad Delim tribe in return for its settlement in Mauritania. The Ulad Delim give up 20 guns in return for 500 camels. Saharawi leaders are required to travel to Dakar and register as French subjects. Saharawis, knowing that this march of tribal leaders to Senegal will force the rest of the tribe to be transferred with them, press Spain to occupy the interior.
July 15 Spanish troops occupy Smara.
August 29 Spain appoints its High Commissioner in Morocco, Benigno Martinez Portillo, Governor General of Ifni, Spanish Sahara and Rio de Oro.
December At the Conference of Bir Mogrein, Spain agrees to permanently occupy the stations of Guelta Zemmour and Smara and to equip them with méharistes units to police the desert in Rio de Oro. A Spanish newspaper, commenting on the Conference, notes: "the negotiators recognized that in the Sahara, there can exist only two" personal statutes "for the natives: French and Spanish."
During the Year Spain occupies Aargub, Daora and Smara in the interior of the Sahara without opposition.
El Sultan Azul, the last Blue Sultan, follows the advice of his dying father, Ma el Ainin, who recommended to his children, disciples and companions that if they had to yield to some foreign Government yield to Spain, because they were noblest among the Christians with whom he had dealt. The Sultan settles in Cape Juby and provides Spain with an important talisman in governing the Sahara.
1935The Bulletin of the Committee for French Africa notes, "Spain has not yet decided to occupy definitively and to organize the possessions where its flag has flown for many long years, except on the map."
February 23 The Governor of Rio de Oro, Captain Francisco Perez Perez, sets out on an automobile trip from La Aguera to Cape Juby accompanied by a lone mechanic. The stages that have to be covered are: La Aguera -Bir Genduz-Erch-Amar-Tizelezug-Buir-Le Gozal-Bir sid Mhamet-Guelat Smamit-Guelta -Smara-Cape Juby.
1936July 18 The Spanish Civil War erupts. Captain Perez Perez, Governor of Spanish Sahara, remains loyal to the Republic. The Spanish Nationalists mobilize numerous volunteers recruited among the R'Gueybatt, Tekna and Awlad Dleïm tribes of the Sahara.
September Spanish Nationalist seize control of Ifni. Governor Perez Perez along with his wife and children is placed under house arrest at Alajero in the Canary Islands where he remains until the end of the civil war.
During the Year Air France discontinues weekly stops at Villa Cisneros on the Casablanca - Dakar route.
1938April 23 Iberia Airlines begins regularly scheduled flights between Seville and the Canary Islands with stops in Ifni and Cape Juby.
1940-1942 Captain Francisco Perez Perez appears before three courts of honor formed by junior officers who demand his retirement, Perez Perez refuses each time and is finally forcibly retired for, "indifference to the glorious national movement". Francisco Perez Perez lives exile and with his family in Tangier from 1945.
1942An eminent member of the Society of International and Colonial Studies authors a work in the name of the Spanish government affirming that, "the vital space of Spain includes a great part of Mauritania". But apparently the idea was squash, because of the disastrous turn taken in the conflict for the political allies of Franco.
1946Spain enacts a new statute organizing its Saharan territories: Ifni, Saguia and Rio de Oro. Spanish Sahara and Ifni will be administered by a Governmental Presidency under the General Directorate of Places and Provinces in Africa as Spanish West Africa.
1949Manuel Alia Medina, a Spanish geological engineer, discovers phosphate in Bucraa. The discovery reveals one of the biggest high grade phosphate deposits in the world. The reserves of this zone were estimated to be more than 10 million tons and 70 to 80% pure.
1950Spanish Caudillo Generalissimo Francisco Franco visits the Sahara and declares, "Your brothers in Spain do not come here to disturb your peace, your freedom or your serenity; they come to help, to advance the progress of the civilization, the sanatoriums, the doctors, all the means which science has, so that your pains and your annoyances can be taken care of ".
1952The Spanish administration in Ifni, La Saguia and Rio de Oro employs 216 people including 155 Saharawis The budget for Spanish West Africa is 19,700,000 pesetas 50% of which goes to the police. The infrastructure of the colony is insignificant. There are a total of 24 telephone subscribers throughout Spanish West Africa.
1957November 23 Ifni is attacked by the Djeich Tahrir (Moroccan Liberation Army) with the support of indigenous Ait Ba Amrane tribesmen. Other attacks at Al Argoub and Villa Cisneros in Rio de Oro follow.
1958February 10 A combined Franco Spanish operation called Ecouvillon-Teide is launched just prior to the ambush of a French mobilized patrol from Bir Mogrein.
April 1 Spain and Morocco sign an accord restoring Cape Juby to Morocco.
1959There are six primary schools with seven instructors including a lone Saharawi which enroll 366 students including 139 Saharawis.
The colony’s sole industry is a state subsidized fishing company.
1961April 1 Spain enacts new legislation which grants the Sahara representation in the Cortes and provincial and municipal councils chaired by Saharawis.
1963The United Nations Committee on Decolonization in application of General Assembly resolution 1524 adds La Saguia El Hamra, Rio de Oro and Ifni to its list of "non autonomous territories".
1965December 16 The United Nations General Assembly adopts resolution 2072 requesting the organization of a referendum, "in conformity with the aspirations of the native population of Spanish Sahara and in consultation with the Moroccan and Mauritanian governments and all other interested parties".
1966December 20 The United Nations General Assembly adopts resolution 2129 reiterating the terms of resolution 2072 and adopts another six resolutions insisting on the necessity of a referendum over the next 8 years.
1969June 30 Spain retrocedes Ifni to Morocco.
1970The 27th session of the United Nations General Assembly concerns itself with the consequences of the uprising at Zemla and does not take up the case of Ifni.
July The Organization of African Unity adopts a resolution introduced by Algeria requesting member states to, “respect the frontiers existing at the moment of their accession to independence” but in a final declaration a paragraph is added on the necessity of respecting, " the territorial integrity of States" proposed by Morocco. Afterwards the Organization of African Unity will try to steer between the conflicting desires of Morocco and Mauritania, Morocco and Mauritania vis a vis Algeria and between Morocco and the Polisaro Front.
1973February 20 The provincial council asks Spain to grant the Sahara autonomy.
March 8 Spanish dictator Francisco Franco responds favorably but evasively to the provincial council’s request for territorial autonomy.
May 10 A group of young Saharawis form the Polisaro Front at it 1st Constituent Congress at Zouerate.
July The Polisaro Front publishes its first communiqué from Nouakchott, Mauritania.
September 21 Franco addresses the Djemaa in a letter which asserts that, "the Spanish State reiterates and solemnly guarantees that the population of the Sahara will decide its future freely".
November 13 – 15 The Djemaa examines a Spanish plan leading the territory to autonomy and a development plan for the period 1974-78 of 20 billion Pesetas.
1974April The Polisario Front joins the Panafrican Youth Movement Panafricain at its meeting in Benghazi with the support of Mauritania and Libya and against the fierce opposition of Algeria and Morocco.
April 25 – 31 The Polisaro Front holds its 2nd Congress and declares itself in favor of national independence.
November 19 A Djemaa of 18 Chieftans representing the tribes is elected in accordance with the Spanish plan. Just before Mauritania accepts a proposal made by Morocco in the United Nations to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the status of the Sahara.
September 30 Mr. El Iraki, leader of the Moroccan mission, tells the United Nations General Assembly, "Mauritania is interested in the future of the Sahara and can be only associated – because of her rights – to payment and initiation of litigation which opposes Morocco and Mauritania to Spain. Mauritania’s foreign minister declares that, “it cannot reply negatively now that the Moroccan Government has recognized our rights in the Sahara”.
1975February 16 The Saharawi National Union Party, aka the Revolutionary Progressive Party, is legalized.
April Morocco and Mauritania synchronize their pleadings before the International Court of Justice at the Hauge.
May A United Nations Commission of Inquiry led by Ivorian foreign affairs minister Simeon Akke reports that the majority of the population in Spanish Sahara supports the Polisaro Front.
May 29 The Spanish Government officially announces a proposal to prepare the Saharawi population to accept independence with the shortest possible delay.
June 5 – 7 The Djemaa establishes a Joint Service Commission to act as a provisional government.
October Morocco launches its Green March and signs an accord with Mauritania establishing zones of influence in Spanish Sahara.
November 14 Spain, Morocco and Mauritania sign the Madrid Accord on the transfer of Spanish power in the Sahara to an interim Morocco-Mauritanian administration effective the following February.

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