It’s been a big week for actors and foreign policy. While Ben Affleck earned generally positive reviews for his congressional testimony on the Congo, his To the Wonder co-star Javier Bardem has ramped up tensions between the governments of France and Morocco.
Bardem was in Paris promoting Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony, a documentary he produced on the plight of refugees from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. The semi-autonomous region, which was a Spanish colony until 1975, has been the subject of a decades-long dispute between Morocco and the nationalist Polisario Front. Morocco has been accused of widespread human rights violations in its occupation of the territory. A ceasefire between the two sides was brokered in 1991.
France is a close ally of its former colony, Morocco, and has generally supported its claim to the territory. As El Pais reports, at the event, Bardem, who has been a very vocal public advocate for Western Sahara for some time, remarked that in 2011, a French ambassador had told him that "to France, Morocco was like ‘a lover you sleep with every night, whom you're not particularly in love with but must defend. In other words, we look the other way.’ ”
After the remarks were published in the French press, Morocco’s communications minister said that France must go “beyond a simple statement by the Foreign Ministry to repair the damage done by those words, whether they were falsely attributed or real.” According to France’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, the French ambassador to the United Nations* did meet with Bardem in 2011 but “did not say what was attributed to him.”
The remark comes at a time of rare tension between the two longtime allies. Morocco halted judicial cooperation with France and the French ambassador was summed after police visited the Moroccan embassy in Paris to investigate torture allegations filed by French-Moroccan activists.
France has had Morocco’s back at the U.N. in the past on Western Sahara issues. Last year, Reuters points out, it “pushed the United States to modify a draft resolution that aimed to have U.N. peacekeepers monitor human rights in the territory.” The issue is going to come up again in April when the U.N. votes on whether to extend its peacekeeping mission in the territory.
Morocco would presumably like to keep France in its corner, but Javier Bardem isn’t helping matters.
*Correction: March 1, 2014: This post originally misstated that Bardem had met with the French ambassador to the United States. The meeting, at which the French foreign ministry denies the remarks in question were said, took place in the United States but was actually with the ambassador to the United Nations. Also, a quote from El Pais in the post misstated that the meeting was with "a French ambassador in the United States." The meeting took place in the United States, but France's ambassador to the United States was not involved.