I received a plea for help on Friday afternoon via the press officer at Los Barrios town hall, José Antonio Ortega. It was a message from Jorge Cano and Juan Jóse Ruiz, two men from that municipality who have been held by the Moroccan authorities since June 5.
At the time their story seemed quite straight forward. Jorge owns a car workshop in Los Barrios and on June 5 he set off in his boat with his son plus an employee Juan José. The boat was moored at Saladillo in Algeciras and they sailed to the waters of Tarifa, as far as I understand it to do some fishing.
There matters took a turn for the worse. Fog came down, the found they were low on fuel and instead of ending up off Tarifa were in Moroccan waters with just a litre in the boat’s fuel tank. They summoned help from the Spanish Coast Guard but it was a Moroccan patrol boat that rescued them and took them ashore.
It was said at the time they had to undergo formalities because of their unusual entry in to Morocco. After being held in a detention centre for several days they were moved to Tangier and the son was duly released returning home by ferry. It was presumed they would follow within days but three months on they are still there and implicated in drugs offences.
The Spanish Consol and the Andalucía Ombudsman have taken up their case but have made little headway against the Moroccan judicial system.
In their statement a desperate Jorge and Juan José say: “we will have to resort to violence or hunger strike as they do in Melilla or the Sahara before the media takes any interest in our case and report the truth about our situation.”
Jorge and Juan José are adamant they made an SOS call to the Spanish coastguard on June 5 and this should have been duly logged with all their details. This they argue should be sufficient to prove what they are saying is true and to secure their release. They clearly feel the Spanish Consul and Ombudsman are not powerful enough to hold any influence with the Moroccan authorities and believe their country should intervene at a higher level.
They now could face drugs charges although again their status in this matter remains unclear. They maintain that a Moroccan judge made them sign a blank form in the presence of their local lawyer. This form was apparently later filled in by the Gendarmerie in Tangier to the effect they confessed that a haul of drugs was theirs. They are puzzled by this as they point out the police in Tangier were not those who were present at the time of their rescue and strongly deny any involvement with drug trafficking. It also has to be said that when they were detained there was no mention of drugs being seized.
They conclude “Our situation is unbearable. Thanks. SOS”
It is certainly an odd tale and one which demands clarification by the Spanish and Moroccan authorities who both seem to have little to say on the matter to the men themselves or to the media.
(The above article appeared in Panorama on September 6, 2010).
Since I penned the above article Jorge Cano and Juan José Rodríguez have been sentenced to three years in jail for the possession and intent to traffic hashish across the Strait of Gibraltar. Their appeal will be heard by the court on September 28 and the Spanish Consul believes that strong new evidence will be presented to prove their innocence. On September 9 a delegation led by the mayor of Los Barrios and most of the spokespersons of the political groups on the council visited the pair in Morocco (top picture). Los Barrios council has already passed a motion in their support. In addition there will be a demonstration outside Los Barrios town hall at 19.00 on September 20 to appeal for their release and for them to be returned home. Those wishing to offer support can do so via their Facebook page – Jorge Cano y Juan José Rodríguez.