Saudi Arabian crowned prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Spain Thursday on an official visit, which activists are claiming will be used to conclude a new arms deal between Spain and Saudi Arabia allegedly valued at US$2.5 billion.
Bin Salman's meetings with the Spanish King Felipe VI, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal, take place one day after a coalition of peace, human rights, and development NGOs named “Arms Under Control” called on Spanish authorities' not to authorize the deal between Saudia Arabia and Spain’s state-owned shipbuilding company Navantia for the construction and delivery of five warships, which the group says could be used in the Saudis’ ongoing war in Yemen.
The coalition of NGOs, which have formed a joint initiative to monitor arms sales around the globe includes Amnesty International, Oxfam, Greenpeace and Catalonia-based FundiPau, has denounced Spain's continued relations with the Saudi-led alliance fighting the Houthi government in Yemen, where the war has taken the lives of thousands of civilians and caused one of the worst humanitarian crisis in recent years.
Spain is the fourth largest arms trading partner of Saudi Arabia, just after the United States, Great Britain, and France, according to the Peace Research Institute of Stockholm. Between 2015 and 2017, Spain exported over US$900 million (728 million euros) worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, just as their coalition began carrying out air strikes in Yemen.
Saudi cargo ships have been docking in Spain since January 2017, when Felipe IV and representatives of the leading 24 Spanish weapon dealers visited Riyadh. Local watchdog organizations have also counted tens of containers loaded each month, amounting to 10,000 tons of weapons.
Just one month after, NGOs and civil society organized to kick out the Saudi ship Bahri Hofuf from Santander, the Bahri Jazan arrived to continue the duty on the day of bin Salman's arrival, despite pressure on the Spanish parliament, a change.org petition with over 18,000 signatures and a declaration by the Parliament of Cantabria against arm trafficking.
When the Bahri Hofuf controversy broke out, representatives from the Unidos Podemos electoral alliance of left-wing parties demanded the Spanish government answer three questions regarding the ship's activities: Has the government opened an investigation on the Saudi ship for navigating with the tracking system turned off? What's the amount of the fine? In case of a negative answer, why wasn't the investigation opened despite a severe violation of marine navigation?”
Led by the Podemos representative in Bizkaia David Carracedo, the political party's parliamentary group confirmed that the Bahri Hofuf ship turned off its tracking device on March 7, 00:11 a.m. near the commune of Saint-Nazaire in France, only to be reconnected by 08:45 a.m. March 8 in Santander.
The Basque NGO Ongi Etorri (which means “welcome” in Euskera and is usually busy taking care of incoming refugees) had been tracking the Saudi ship through its mandatory geolocator device when the Bahri turned it off for 24 hours, only to reemerge already docked in Santander.
Bin Salman, who has been touring European countries over the last month, visiting Saudi's main arm trading partners at the same time he claims to be promoting a new more progressive face of the kingdom, changes some claim are superficial.