Frontline Gibraltar: Spanish eyes smile on colonial friends

THE FRONTIER between Spain and Gibraltar does not bristle with jumpy, rifle-toting guards. Few approach those drab little border controls with apprehension in their hearts. On the Spanish side rough-looking men and women hang around - as you would expect at any frontier post worth its salt - gulping hot coffee and fat goblets of brandy against the morning chill at Paco's stand-up bar. But most are doing nothing more sinister than waiting for the bus to Algeciras.

On the Gibraltar side, a rosy-cheeked bobby with a West Country burr directs you politely to the interminable queue of cars waiting to get out.

Many in the queue are Spaniards on their regular cheap-petrol run, or Gibraltarians eager to check on their properties along the costa. Pedestrians rarely wait much except at rush hour, when some 2,000 Spaniards employed on the Rock queue to get home for dinner.

The tension, when it flares, comes from Madrid and London. Here on the border, Gibraltarians and Spaniards get on fine. For centuries they have been trading, smuggling, marrying each other and jumbling up their languages. Mostly, they like each other.

Jose Gomez, from the scruffy Spanish border town of La Linea, has been crossing every day for 15 years to work in a hotel bar on the Rock.

Francis, who runs a pharmacy in Gibraltar's Main Street, is married to Kathy, an elegant Spanish woman from La Linea. They cross to Spain several times a week so the children can see their grandparents. On this occasion he is braving the queue to deal with some paperwork for a flat he has bought "across the road".

The Spanish government recently called Gibraltar's colonial status a ridiculous anachronism, and described it as an "economic parasite". But Jose, and thousands like him, strongly disagrees.

"Gibraltar is like a factory for us. There is no bigger employer for miles around. No one in La Linea wants Gibraltar to become Spanish," he insists.

Jose was among some 2,000 La Linea residents who noisily protested against Madrid at the weekend for tightening screws on Gibraltar. The workers are angry that their jobs on the Rock are threatened, fearing greater hardship in this impoverished area where unemployment is 40 per cent, the highest rate in Spain.

La Linea's conservative mayor, Jose Antonio Fernandez Pons, last week urged Madrid to aid his "totally stagnant" town. "La Linea and Gibraltar are linked by blood and geography," says Mr Pons. "We need mutual understanding on a day-to-day basis. The prosperity of the area depends on it. We've always been ignored by the central government in its policy towards Gibraltar. Now we want compensation from Madrid for the hardship we're suffering."

La Linea was born because of the British colony. For centuries the people of the town trudged across the causeway to service the imperial garrison on the Rock. When Franco closed the border in 1967 he choked off the city's lifeline. "He built a factory along the bay that closed within weeks," Jose recalls bitterly, "and a football pitch in full view of the Rock, to make Gibraltarians think we were prospering."

Francis, his week-old BMW gleaming in the queue, remembers how his father struggled to keep the pharmacy going during the 18-year blockade that followed. He believes Gibraltar could survive as a banking and business centre if Spain opened up and Britain "were generous with opportunities". But few are so confident.

Gibraltar's anxiety is that London will cast it aside now that its historic usefulness is gone and good relations with Spain become the more pressing need. Fearing that Britain's commitment will wane, the Gibraltarians plead for reassurance that they won't be abandoned, sensitive to any equivocal silence.

Anachronistic they may be, but Gibraltarians say it is not their fault that Britain's 300-year colonial rule made them what they are: neither Spanish nor British, but Mediterranean Latins steeped in generations of British customs, education and habits of government. At home in neither country, they cling to the identity they have.

Across the road, back at the bar that faces British sovereign territory, Paco breaks me off a sprig from a bunch of olive leaves in a tumbler on the counter. Is this a peace offering? I joke, in Spanish. He's non-committal and replies, in English: "One more coffee? Before the bus comes."

The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Behaviour Support Assistant (BSA)

(?19,817 ? ?21,734)Pro Rata: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support Assis...

HE Dyslexia Tutor/Study Skills Tutor P/T

£21 - £22 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education has been help...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently seeking dy...

IT & Business Studies Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT & Business Studies Teacher f...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?