Gibraltar, the fortress rock that guards the western approaches of the Mediterranean, has a long history of withstanding siege conditions.
Gibraltar, the fortress rock that guards the western approaches of the Mediterranean, has a long history of withstanding siege conditions. For the last two years, 24,000 people of the British Crown Colony have been shut up on their two square miles of rock in cramped and frustrating circumstances -- since Spain cut communications and closed the frontier with Gibraltar.
The closure also cut British negotiations with Spain over the future of the rock. During the last two years, the British attitude has been that talks cannot proceed under duress. But there's a chance to break the deadlock during the coming week. British Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-home travels to Madrid for discussions with Spanish Foreign Minister Gregorio Lopez Bravo.
It's an effort to achieve harmony before the two sides take their place as active members of the European Common Market. But though the British are hoping for some easing of Spanish restrictions on Gibraltar, no final agreement is likely as long as it contravenes the wishes of Gibraltar's population.
SYNOPSIS: On his last mission abroad, British Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home met Rhodesian leader Ian Smith in a major effort to patch up the British-Rhodesian split. His next assignment is equally difficult -- he'll be trying to mend Britain's dispute with Spain.
The man he'll be negotiating with is Spanish foreign Minister Lopez Bravo, here arriving for a visit to Greece. The two men meet in Madrid at the end of February in an attempt to solve a long-standing dispute before their countries become active Common Market members.
Cause of the dispute -- Gibraltar, the fortress rock guarding the western approaches to the Mediterranean. Ceded to Britain during the eighteenth century, spain has mounted an intensive economic campaign to recover the colony during the last decade.
According to legend, British presence depends on the Barbary Apes. symbolically, they've multiplied to the point where some will have to be given away. At the same time, there has been an increase in the Rock's strategic importance as a military base, with the British withdrawal from Malta still continuing. There are plans to enlarge the airstrip -- run by the Royal Air Force -- which already extends half a mile into the sea. But this could further antagonise Spain.
Only last November, Madrid protested bitterly when Prince Charles arrived in Gibraltar to join his first ship in the Royal Navy -- the guided missile destroyer Norfolk.
Spain's blockade of Gibraltar intensified two-and-a-half years ago when the border was closed. Five-thousand Spanish workers, who crossed into the colony daily, were withdrawn.
To complete Gibraltar's isolation, the ferry to Algeciras was suspended. Telecommunications via the Spanish mainland wore restricted. And so was flying in Spanish air space. Twenty-four-thousand Gibraltarians found themselves penned into just two square miles of land area.
But through it all, the people of Gibraltar have remained fanatically pro-British. And though they would welcome a relaxation of Spanish restrictions, there's still strong opposition to union with Spain. Many Gibraltarians fear losing their traditional freedoms -- like the right to demonstrate openly. But if there's a change of political climate in post-Franco Madrid, the question of sovereignty might be less important.