It is ten years since Spain took its most decisive step in enforcing a blockade of gibraltar by closing their land frontier to all but limited local traffic.
It is ten years since Spain took its most decisive step in enforcing a blockade of gibraltar by closing their land frontier to all but limited local traffic. Since then, there have been many changes in Spain: the death of General Franco, the reintroduction of parliamentary democracy and the Spanish application to join the European Economic Community. These have contributed to better relations with the United Kingdom, still the colonial power in Gibraltar; and after a decade of isolation, there are signs that some, at least, of the restrictions may be relaxed before long.
SYNOPSIS: Midnight on May 5th, 1968: the last tourists crossed the border from Spain into Gibraltar, and the gates were closed behind them. A year later, even local traffic was stopped. The Rock was cut off from Europe.
The border -- with its locked gates -- runs across the neck of land that links British ruled Gibraltar with the Spanish town of La Linea.
Gibraltar has been British since the treaty of Utrecht of 1713 -- and is an important military and naval base at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. Spain no longer considers itself bound by that treaty, and has reasserted its right to sovereignty.
In 1969, Spain stepped up the pressure again. About 5,000 Spanish workers, mostly from La Linea, had crossed the border every day to jobs in gibraltar. From then on, even they were banned. The last of them said goodbye to their employers, and the frontier gates were shut behind them. They have stayed shut ever since.
Many people in Gibraltar and La Linea have family ties. They were divided, as East and West Berliners Wall. The Spaniards were the worst hit. Jobs were, and still are, hard to come by in southern Spain, The ferry boat from Tangier, across the Straits, brought growing numbers of Moroccans to make up Gibraltar's depleted labour force. Today, the only way to travel between Gibraltar and Spain, except by air, is to cross to Tangier and back to a Spanish port.
Gibraltar's tourist trade has suffered, but British military spending and development aid, and the presence of 4,000 British servicemen and their families, have kept the economy going. The 30,000 people of Gibraltar have made it clear -- by referendum and demonstration -- that they would rather be British than Spanish. Britain has promised never to hand them over to any other state against their will. The Rock will not necessarily remain a colony: some form of more complete self-government might be worked out.
Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Sir Josuha Hassan, will be a key figure in any negotiations. In the past few months, Spanish, British and Gibraltarian ministers have held several meetings, to begin feeling their way towards some easing of the restrictions. And the British Foreign Secretary, Dr. David Owen, spoke hopefully after a visit to Madrid last September: