In the midst of the current diplomatic spat between Spain and the United Kingdom over Gibraltar, are the voices of ordinary people on and around the Rock being ignored? EL PAÍS visited the British colony and found that views on the disagreement were mixed, but that there was an overwhelming feeling that the way the media has been presenting the problems does not necessarily reflect the reality.
Zakaria (36), who is originally from Morocco but now has a Spanish passport, lives in La Línea. He has been working on the Rock for a year and is currently employed as a waiter.
“Everything that happens between Gibraltarians and Spanish affects me, because I work here.
“I think that the main problem between Gibraltar and Spain at the moment is that there are so many problems with corruption in Spain. There is the Bárcenas case in Spain, and the president of the government wants to avoid it with the Gibraltar problem. They have so many problems in their government. They should clean their government of corruption.
“They say that Gibraltarians invaded Spanish waters: they could regulate this situation. But I think there is nothing important to make a big story like they are making.“
Zakaria said that he had personal experience of the problems at the Spanish/Gibraltarian border with customs officials taking his bag and ID for 20 minutes.
“The effect is negative consequences on Gibraltar. Negative consequences. There are many Spanish people working in Gibraltar.“
A taxi driver who would not give his name but described himself as “a proud Gibraltarian”
“It’s always been the same against us. They use the same tactics as Franco, because they are the same as them.
"They don’t care at all about us. The Spanish foreign minister, he doesn’t care about the concrete blocks.
"They will not see the Spanish flag on the Rock of Gibraltar,” he adds, blaming the current dispute on corruption and the crisis.
Another proud Gibraltarian, Joe Galliano (66) was out walking his patriotically dressed dog.
”What’s been happening is just a smokescreen. A smokescreen of what the Spanish government has been doing to their people.
“It’s just like in the Franco era. If they were in trouble they had three things: a football match, a bull fight or Gibraltar. So every time they’re in trouble, they bring up the problem with Gibraltar again.
“It’s ridiculous. There’s 10,000 Spaniards working here [Figures from last year say around 3,600 Spanish people were employed in Gibraltar]. In the morning there’s no queue because they want to let the Spanish workers come in. But to go out, they’ve got to wait two, three hours… That’s against human rights. That’s against the common market.“
“Those poor people three weeks ago were there eight hours. Eight hours! Little kiddies and babies. And you know they didn’t get a drink of water.“ Joe claims that the Gibraltarian government gave water to people in the queues.
“A lot of them here, they are still brainwashed about Gibraltar.“
Christian (33) was out walking with his fiancée, Sara (21).
“Hopefully Britain will have something to do with it soon, ” he says. “Spain are as good as a child shouting for his rattle.“
Sara adds: “Both sides are itching for a fight. “
They say that they have Spanish friends and do not normally have problems, but blame the media for pointing the finger at Gibraltar. They say the Spanish media have accused Gibraltar of starting trouble in order to distract from problems in the UK.
Sara and Christian say that Gibraltarians have been raising money for poor families affected by the crisis in neighboring La Línea, as well as money to build a children’s play area in the Spanish town.
Christian argues that the point that has been made by some that the Treaty of Utrecht did not make any mention of territiorial waters is irrelevant as the concept of “territorial waters only existed 60 years ago.”
“How is it affecting us? It’s not. Who are they affecting? The Spanish people,” he concludes.
Michelle (26) is British and living in Gibraltar.
“Being in a car for hours is not humane.”
She describes Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo as “an idiot.” She adds that there were differences between Gibraltarians and British expats, and that she had found Spanish speakers in Gibraltar to be more right-wing in their views.
“We love Spain and we want to be able to travel freely,” she says.
Samuel (33) is Spanish and visiting Gibraltar for the day.
He says that he does not mind Gibraltar being British.
“I think [the row] is political interest for both countries. I think both countries have very bad economies and that [the Gibraltar controversy] is very good for both countries.”
He thinks that the Gibraltarian government is not doing a good job and that the current tensions are “very good news to hide” its problems.
María (45) is Spanish, from Marbella. She was on the Rock visiting her boyfriend, a local.
She explains that recently a car was set on fire in La Línea, allegedly because of its Gibraltarian number plate. “ Now, my boyfriend is afraid to put his car on the other side of the border. The people from Gibraltar don’t go to La Línea now."
She has clear ideas about the sovereignty of the Rock. “The people living here are British. My boyfriend is from Glasgow. His mum is from here, and his dad is from Glasgow. Their friends are British.”
Beata (31), is on holiday in Gibraltar from Poland.
“I don’t really see how [the row] started, because the first time I heard about it was one week before we came on holiday. But in the end, I didn’t see any problems.”
It is Beata’s first time in Gibraltar and she says: “I love it, but it’s a little hot. We went on the Rock and had a walk. Amazing! The monkeys, the view… amazing!”
She explains that her family were initially a little worried about how they would cross the border from Spain. However, she managed to get a direct flight to Gibraltar and her family, who landed in Málaga, found a taxi at the airport which brought them across with no problems. “We thought this would be so crazy, but we found a solution.”
Marco (42) is from La Línea but works in Madrid.
“There are two subjects. One is about [Gibraltar] making their land bigger [in reference to Gibraltar’s land reclamation], which is OK. But another thing is the concrete blocks, and this is not OK. They are leaving Spanish fishermen without work."
“Picardo is doing things badly. We didn’t have any problems until a year ago,” he says, adding that he has no problem with Gibraltar remaining British.
Former mayor: "Spain will never have even a stone a Gibraltar"
Solomon Levy (also known as Momy) was the first civil mayor of Gibraltar, serving from 2008 to 2009.
“I’m a big fan of Spanish music, and I always say that music and friendship have no frontier. But as far as Gibraltar’s concerned, we are British, we will always be British. Spain will never, never have even a stone of Gibraltar.
“I tell my good VIP friends when I see them. They say to me ‘Gibraltar español’ and I just tell them one simple thing: ‘You are a Christian and I am a Jew. You Christian’s Messiah has come. We Jews are still waiting for our Messiah, but when our Messiah does come, Gibraltar will still be British.
He claims suggestions made on Spanish TV channel Telecinco that Gibraltar depends on Spain for water and electricity are "absolute nonsense." "I challenge each of them to come to Gibraltar and tell us what is illegal about us. We are 100% kosher, in the sense that all our laws are approved by the EU, we conform with the laws and we are a law-abiding people."
He says that by closing the border in 1969 for 13 years, Franco actually made the people of the Rock Gibraltarians.“ It made us realize that although we are only 30,000 people, we are neither British or Spanish: we are Gibraltarian. British subjects, with Britain, not under Britain.“
“We have everything we want. The Spanish people in this neighborhood are very nice. We have friends, we’ve got families there and at the moment we’ve got 10,000 Spanish working here daily. If they weren’t working here they’d be starving, like 40,000 other people in the Campo area. Not only are 10,000 people working here, but because of those 10,000, another 4,000 people are eating. And I know for a fact that the people in Spain, in La Línea especially, haven’t even got bread to eat. So the Spanish should be grateful to us.”
“I jokingly say: ‘British we are, British we stay but Spanish we speak all day.‘
“Although I’m very British, I’m very Latin-blooded, unlike the British who are very calm.
“In general, we live like kings here and if they want to close that bloody frontier, let them do so tomorrow. They’re going to starve and we will survive forever.
“The concrete blocks - perhaps it was a mistake to put them there, but even if it was a mistake, it was put in our waters, British waters.
“Even in [the 1960s] Franco recognized that there were British waters and Spanish waters. These bloody idiots now are saying that we haven’t got any waters at all.”