Gibraltar

THE 25,000 inhabitants of Gibraltar pride themselves on being more British than the inhabitants of the British Isles themselves. Just across the frontier from Spain, bold, glaring slogans are printed up on the walls: “260 years British and still going strong,” and “Two and a half centuries of liberty must not end now.”

Union Jacks are everywhere on display, and on the approach of a stranger, the Gibraltarians break off conversations in their Genovese-Spanish patois and ostentatiously speak English. Gibraltar is one part of the former British colonial empire which openly wants to remain a colony and to belong, without reservation, to the British Crown.

The reasons for this unusual attitude are not hard to find. In the first place, the Gibraltarians are not Spanish in nationality. When the forces of Sir George Rooke seized Gibraltar during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704, the Rock was a harborless, apparently waterless near-island, connected with the rest of Spain by a narrow spit of sand. Ten years later, British ownership was confirmed by the Treaty of Utrecht, and civilian labor was brought in by the garrison — to construct a harbor in place of mere anchorage, to dig wells, and to improve existing fortifications. Most of this labor came from Genoa initially.

During the course of the next two centuries, more foreign labor filtered in, from Malta, Sicily, Tangier, Venice, Portugal. By 1811 Gibraltar had a population of 9000, which doubled during the next fifty years. A British business community sprang up, and Jews came over from Morocco to take a prominent place in the retail trade. The Spaniards, out of pride and prejudice, stayed away.

Rockbound bobbies

Gibraltarians occasionally marry Spaniards, but those who come to stay become Gibraltarian, and British, without delay. This is primarily due to the Rock’s high living standards. On the opposite side of the frontier with Spain is La Línea, with 70,000 inhabitants, many of them living in hovels—a sleepy, sleazy town, with beautiful beaches which remain strangely empty and without a single decent hotel or restaurant. By contrast, Gibraltar is spick-and-span, almost oppressively hygienic, and obviously prosperous. It has the gayest, best-dressed, and most polite schoolchildren in Europe, the most accommodating shopkeepers, large and comfortable British bobbies who police its law-abiding streets, and a sort of business-as-usual atmosphere.

Gibraltarians say very loudly that they could never visualize living under Franco’s dictatorship. It is patently clear that they are equally opposed to absorption into the Spanish economy, whose present phase of industrial expansion is coming a hundred years after it happened in Britain, France, and Germany.

Gibraltar’s prosperity makes it a magnet for foreign labor. Each day approximately 8500 Spaniards come from La Línea to work mainly in the dockyard and harbor area. Some hundreds of Moroccans have been brought in during the last year because the Spanish authorities decided to issue no new frontier passes, thereby whittling down the Rock’s labor force as Spanish workmen reach retirement age and are not replaced.

The gradual reduction of their labor force is only a minor worry to the Gibraltarians today. Their major concern is over the so-called “little blockade” which the Spanish authorities instituted in October, 1964. This took the form of imposing needless delays on the clearing of cars at the La Línea crossing point and of cutting off all supplies to Spain except fresh fruit and vegetables.

There is no railway line to Gibraltar. The Rock depends very largely on its tourist trade — usually about one million visitors a year, but in 1965 probably fewer than 600,000 — and tourists often like to hire cars in Gibraltar and drive out to bullfights in Ronda and San Roque and to seaside resorts on the rapidly developing Costa del Sol. During the last year the Spanish customs authorities have cleared on an average one car every half hour. They have maintained that this longwinded procedure is due to intensive smuggling out of Gibraltar, where goods are sold duty free. But they have made no attempt to carry out proper searches of cars entering or leaving Spain.

Spanish traffic jam

Smuggling from Gibraltar clearly does exist, and it is very difficult for the British authorities to check it. It is mainly by sea, and vessels leaving the Rock may carry apparently genuine bills of lading. But the smuggling fraternity alters course for the Canary or Balearic Islands, and off-loads there with the connivance of easily bribable Spanish officials. This is an abuse which Spain should put down itself. That it has failed to do so suggests that the Spanish government does not consider the smuggling serious enough to justify the effort involved.

The bulk of the British visitors to Gibraltar arrive by plane, and travel on — or used to do so — by hired car or charabanc. They spend freely during average stays of only about twenty-four hours on the Rock. In 1965 the number of motor vehicles entering Gibraltar fell by 95 percent. Total foreign spending in Gibraltar has dropped by more than 50 percent. An entrepôt lives off its imports, and Gibraltar’s have fallen this year from $36 million to $22 million.

In September and October, generally good tourist months, hotels were less than half full. The shopkeepers are living off their own fat, but another year of the little blockade will hit them very hard. The dozen or so car-rental firms have already gone out of business.

In addition, there is now a “slum” population totaling 700, British subjects who were previously living in Spain and who were forced to leave their homes and move to Gibraltar in the fall of 1964. Most of these people are today living in the meanest accommodations — four to a room in Nissen huts, and groups of thirty and forty in men’s, women’s, and “mixed” dormitories in disused barracks and bakeries.

The Gibraltar authorities cannot be blamed in any way for this; even before the little blockade about 1000 families were living in cramped and inadequate homes. On the Rock there is a desperate lack of space.

Spanish claims

Why did Spain institute this unpleasant campaign against the Gibraltarians? The Madrid government continually complains that Britain has been breaking the Treaty of Utrecht by giving the Gibraltarians too great a measure of selfgovernment.

The Spaniards argue that the treaty provided that if total British ownership of the Rock should end, it should revert to Spanish sovereignty. They argue, too, that a semi-independent Gibraltar might fall under the influence of a foreign power hostile to Spain, or even become a hostile military base. Finally, Spain claims that the United Nations “anti-colonial” Committee of 24 had called for Anglo-Spanish talks on Gibraltar’s future, and that Britain had refused to grant this request.

The Gibraltarians want a form of “free association” with Britain, confirming the local self-government which they already have, but keeping their status of a crown colony. A growing number of people would prefer total integration with Britain, with representation in the British Parliament and with Gibraltarians having complete freedom to enter Britain (at present the provisions of the Immigration Act limit the number of entries).

Pimple on the toe

The British government favors some kind of status for Gibraltar equivalent to that of either the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. The Colonial Office is presently engaged in working out a draft constitution along these lines. This will, when presented, effectively answer the Spanish claim that Gibraltar is being given complete independence.

But Spain in reality has quite different grievances against Britain, which have done most toward causing the little blockade. The Labor Party before winning the British election stated that it would not honor contracts to deliver frigates to the Spanish Navy. The contracts had to be canceled. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson canceled joint Anglo-Spanish naval maneuvers at a moment’s notice. And left-wing Labor Members of Parliament have continued to criticize the Franco regime with undiminished bitterness. All this has grated on Spanish susceptibilities, and the Spaniards are notoriously thinskinned and aware of their own national pride and honor.

Basically, Spain of course wants to annex Gibraltar. Britain can never agree to this as long as the Gibraltarians want to remain British. It should be remembered that the Rock has now been British longer than it ever was Spanish, and for 240 years before its capture by Rooke, it was under the Moors.

What, then, can be done to resolve the conflict over Gibraltar, to stop it from developing into a permanently painful pimple on the toe of Europe, making genuine AngloSpanish cooperation impossible? First, there should be talks on the Gibraltar problem between the British and Spanish governments. Informed opinion in both London and Gibraltar is now in favor of them. Second, certain concessions can be made to Spain.

They could include harbor facilities for the Spanish Navy, the use by the Spanish government-owned airline, Iberia, of Gibraltar’s airport, rates of pay for Spaniards coming daily into Gibraltar equal to those enjoyed by the Gibraltarians (at present they are roughly 15 percent lower), British and Gibraltarian capital for development projects in the neighboring Campo area of Spain.

Perhaps most important from a symbolical point of view, Spain could be given a Port Office in Gibraltar, flying the Spanish flag and engaged in concerting measures for combating smuggling and in supervising Spanish rights in the harbor. Here is the sort of way in which AngloSpanish understanding can be restored. Gibraltar has to live with Spain in a local sense, while Britain has to do so as part of Europe.