Gibraltar tensions

April 6, 2017

An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession and  Spain ceded it to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

It’s still a British Overseas Territory on Spain’s south coast dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, a 426m-high limestone ridge.

That rock can be seen easily from a good distance away an ever-present reminder to Spain of  Britain’s possession of the territory.

Gibraltar is only 6.7 km2   in area but is strategically placed. In World War II it provided a base from which the Royal Navy controlled exit and entry to the Mediterranean Sea and half the world’s seaborne trade passes through the strait today.

Tensions over Gibraltar have risen again now the European Union offered Spain a right of veto over the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU after Brexit.

A significant majority of the 32,000 people who live in the territory have repeatedly voted overwhelmingly both for their own autonomy and to reject any sharing of sovereignty with Spain. But that doesn’t stop Spain’s ambition to reclaim the territory.

Spain may very well return to the days when it effectively embargoed Gibraltar, denying easy access to tourists and forcing residents to rely on air links to Great Britain to run their economy. The bureaucrats in Brussels frankly may also cheer on Spain’s punishment of the population and economy of Gibraltar as a means to signal its annoyance with Great Britain for turning its back on the European experiment.

Spain, however, is playing with fire and risks creating a precedent which will burn it several times over. Here’s the problem:

While Spain might object to Great Britain maintaining sovereignty over a 2.6 square mile territory which Madrid sees as its own, Spain has its own enclaves on the Mediterranean carved out of what should be, but for historical accidents of centuries past, sovereign Moroccan territory.

Ceuta is only seven square miles. In 1415, the Portuguese captured Ceuta and, during the next century when Portugal and Spain briefly united, Spaniards flocked to the city. The 1668 Treaty of Lisbon formally ceded Ceuta to Spain to whom it has belonged ever since. Spain, along with France, was a colonial power in Morocco but, in 1956 when Spain withdrew from northern Morocco (it would leave the Western Saharan in 1975), it continued to hold Ceuta.

Melilla, only 4.7 square miles, has a similar history. Spain conquered the city in 1497 and rebuffed subsequent Moroccan political and diplomatic efforts to win it back. Spain may consider it an autonomous territory but, it reality, it is a colonial outpost and an accident of history.

Spain may seek advantage from Brexit going forward in order to reclaim Gibraltar; that’s Madrid’s prerogative. However, so long as Spain continues to hold Ceuta and Melilla, instead of allowing an extension of Moroccan sovereignty, then Spain and the European Union’s case will be both hypocritical and weak.

Our first visit to Gibraltar was prompted by a desire to watch the touring Lions play Otago in 2005. We were living in Vejer de la Frontera, a village in Andalusia on the Costa de la Luz, where the locals favour football and we thought  Gibraltar would be the nearest place where people would be watching rugby.

It’s connected to Spain by a narrow isthmus on which Gibraltar airport is built.

We followed the advice of locals that it’s easier to enter the territory than face the queues when driving and once through customs and immigration we walked across the tarmac to the town.

Our first impressions weren’t positive.

The town was full of high-rise apartments that looked like they’d been designed in England with no appreciation of the Mediterranean climate.

However, the locals were friendly and we had no trouble finding a pub that would be showing the rugby next morning. The locals became friendlier still when the Lions won.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the rock, meeting the Barbary Macaques and learning about the military history including the WW II tunnels.

 

Legend has it that Britain will lose control of the territory if the apes die out. This was the seed from which Paul Gallico wrote his book Scruffy.

Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven includes a more realistic and harrowing story of war in Gibraltar.

 

 

 


España 4 – Italia 0

July 2, 2012

El Pais says:España ha inscrito su nombre con letras de oro en la historia del fútbol –  Spain has written its name with gold letters in the history of football.

They’ve won their second European Cup final against Italy, 4 – 0, following their World Cup win last year and European Cup four years ago.

They are the first team to successfully  defend the European championship title and win three major titles in succession.

I watched the start of Spain’s opening pool match against Italy, which they drew 1 -1, in a wee bar in Vejer de la Frontera. The locals were very excited about that; the oles will be even louder now.


Spain still sunny but clouds gathering

June 25, 2012

Spain has been in the media for all the wrong reasons because of its economic woes.

We read a Time article on Jerez de la Frontera, Spain’s most indebted city, on the plane on the way over.

It spoke of council employees who haven’t been paid for months, high unemployment and the social and economic problems which come with both of those.

But on the surface, Spain looked much as we remembered it from three previous visits.

We lived in Vejer de la Frontera in 2005 and returned for shorter stays in 2007 and 2008.

Vejer is one of Andalusia’s many pueblo blancos – white villages. It’s perched on top of a hill near the Cape of Trafalgar between Cadiz and Tarifa on the Costa de la Luz and has a population of about 13,000 people.

In 2005 it was booming. The EU was pouring money into highway construction and a big irrigation scheme. British people, put off by soaring prices on the Costa del Sol  further east, were making the most of their high pound and Europe’s low interest rates buying and renovating houses.

Now the construction has been finished, the pound has dropped in value, interest rates are higher. There are still tourists on the streets but the boom is over.

Given the dire state of the economy we were expecting obvious signs of problems. At first glance it looked at least as prosperous as we remembered it.

However, the increase in the number of shops, bars and cafes was not a sign of prosperity but of people who had lost jobs trying to run their own businesses.

That extra competition made business tougher but was good for consumers. We thought eating out was cheaper than it had been. That was helped by the difference in the exchange rate. It had cost us about $2.30 to buy a euro seven years ago, now it takes about $1.60; but even euro for euro we thought prices were lower.

The busy season for tourists is a bit later but the town was bustling at the weekend. Our landlady said bookings last year were high but this year Spaniards are taking shorter breaks and competition from the Olympics and European Football championships on top of Europe’s economic woes were resulting in less business this year.

A social security system, family support and a thriving black market are masking the dire situation the country faces but locals told us times are very tough, businesses are struggling and depression and suicide rates are high.

The sun was still shining but there are dark clouds gathering.

 


Case for consitutional cap on debt

August 24, 2011

Spain plans to change its constitution to put a cap on public debt.

The rest of us have caps imposed on our borrowing by bank managers.

Countries do get to a limit eventually. But huge deficits facing several nations, including Spain, provide a very strong case for a self-imposed level of debt which prevents successive governments from getting into the danger zone.

There is a case for borrowing for long term projects so future generations who have to pay it back also get the benefits. The case for borrowing to fund for current spending is shakier, it’s like taking out a mortgage to buy groceries.

However, whatever the money is borrowed for it has to be serviced and repaid and that limits the amount of money a country has for other spending.

Imposing a cap would focus governments on responsible budgeting,  impose restraints on spending and help reduce the burden of the state.


How clean is your cucumber?

June 4, 2011

Travellers in third world countries are warned about not eating raw fruit or vegetables unless they’ve peeled them but few are concerned in countries with better standards of hygiene.

I’ve had giardia which has made me a bit paranoid about what I eat when away from home but I’d never have worried about salads in Germany.

However, that was before the news of illness and deaths there as a result of  haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC):

The number of patients in Germany presenting with HUS and bloody diarrhoea caused by STEC is 470, which is 97 more than the day before, and 1064 of EHEC, which is an increase of 268. Overall in Europe, 499 cases of HUS and 1115 cases of EHEC have been reported, 1614 in total.

Cases have now also been notified from: Austria (HUS 0, EHEC 2), Denmark (7, 7), France, (0, 6), Netherlands (4, 4), Norway, (0, 1), Spain, (1, 0), Sweden (15, 28) and Switzerland (0, 2) and the United Kingdom. (2, 1) All these cases except two are in people who had recently visited northern Germany or in one case, had contact with a visitor from northern Germany.

The BBC reports 16 people have died of the disease and the cause hasn’t been ascertained.

It was originally blamed on Spanish cucumbers at considerable cost:

Spain’s fruit and vegetable exporters estimate they have been losing more than 200m euros ($290m; £174m) since the outbreak emerged.

Germany has admitted the bacteria did not come from Spain as initially reported, but said the decision to issue the warning had been correct as a different strain of E.coli was present in Spanish cucumbers.

The speed and extent of the impact on Spanish producers is horrifying and reinforces the need for vigilance with food production and processing here for both health and financial reasons.

Siouxsie Wiles gives a scientist’s perspective on the outbreak:

Recently, researchers have shown how plants become contaminated with EHEC, and it makes scary reading. Most people would think that as long as they gave their vegetables a decent rinse before putting them in their salad, then all would be well. If only it were that simple. It turns out that the bacteria aren’t just hanging around on the surface of the plant. Shaw and colleagues (1) showed that EHEC attach to the very cells that open and close the pores plants use for gas exchange. From here, the bacteria can then get inside of the plant cell, where no amount of rinsing can reach them.

It’s not easy to get your five plus servings of fresh fruit and vegetables when you’re travelling at the best of times, but I’d rather risk a little vitamin and fibre deprivation than a stomach bug like this.


España 0 – Holanda 0 UPDATE: España 1 – Holanda 0

July 12, 2010

Glimpses of World Cup games have confirmed my conviction that you have to know a lot more about sport than I do to appreciate a game in which the fulltime score is a nil-all draw and the best performances are the Hollywoods.

Update with two mintues to go : Spain got a goal: Spain 1 – Netherlands 0.

Update: España ha ganado la Copa del Mundo.

El País, Spain’s major newspaper, says:

Directo: España campeona del mundo

El 11 de julio es ya un día histórico en el deporte nacional. España ha ganado su primer Mundial. Un golazo de Iniesta a cuatro minutos del final la prórroga ha dado la victoria. Ha sido una final agónica, con oportunidades por ambos bandos y jugada con mucha dureza por Holanda.

Spain world champion

The 11 of July is already a historic day in national sport. Spain has won its first World Cup.  A goal by Iniesta four minutes from the final extension has givent he victory. It has been an agonising final with opportunities for both teams and played with much toughness by the Netherlands.


España 1 Alemania 0

July 8, 2010

The more I see of football the less I understand.

Having just watched the last few minutes of the World Cup  semi-final between Spain and Germany I’ve come up with another questions: why do the Spanish wear blue shorts when their colours are red and yellow?


Train thoughts

July 22, 2009

It’s always better to start with the worst and move up to the best.

We did it the other way round with European trains.

The first was one of Spain’s fast trains which was clean, comfortable and on time. We changed in Madrid to another fast train which was of a similar standard (though I wouldn’t recommend the food).

In Barcelona we swapped to a slower train. The seats were still comfortable but not as good as those in the fast trains. It was about half an hour late but as we were in holiday mode that didn’t worry us.

Yesterday we left Montpellier on a French fast train which was better than the previous day’s slow one but not as comfortable as the Spainish one. We swapped in Avignon to a slower one, got in late to Nice where we only just had time to catch our connection to Ventimiglia and then found it had been cancelled.

The train we were supposed to catch had been leaving from platform E. When it was cancelled we were told to go to G – down the stairs we’d just lugged our cases up and up another set of stairs. We milled there with other confused travellers for about 10 minutes until someone who could understand French translated an annoucnement which told us we had to go to platform D – back down the stairs and  up the ones we’d descended from platform E.

The train eventually turned up and left 20 minutes late. We had originally had 15 minutes to spare to get the connecting train and weren’t hopeful of making it but there were so many of us they’d held it back.

That was a good start and the seats were comfortable but the train was slow, it started off 20 mintues behind schedule and ended up 50 minutes late in Milan.

The only food on offer was very expensive junk (2.70 euros for a very small packet of dried fruit).

But the worst was the loo – clean enough but all it was just a seat with a pipe straight on to the track. Pity the poor people who live close to the railway.


Bienvenido al Rey y La Reina de España

June 16, 2009

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain will visit New Zealand next week.

They will be accompanied by Spain’s Foreign Minsiter Miguel Angel Moratinos and Secretary of State for Trade Silvia Iranzo.

“I am delighted to host King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. Their visit presents a unique opportunity to enhance understanding and visibility of New Zealand at the highest levels in Spain,” says Mr Key.

“New Zealand’s relationship with Spain is on the cusp of an exciting phase of further development, with the prospect of increased trade, investment and tourism.

“Our two countries are also seeking to expand education, science and technology, and cultural links.

“In recent years, high-level bilateral political interaction has strengthened considerably,” says Mr Key.

When New Zealanders travel overseas we are accustomed to people in other countries having only a vague, if any, idea about New Zealand.

But in Spain when people asked where we were from, almost all reacted with a smile when they heard nueva zelanda and responded by saying, “el pais más lejos de españa,” – the country furtherest from Spain.

They also knew us because of los kiwis – kiwifruit. Spain is one of the biggest markets (maybe the biggest?) for our kiwifruit and we saw them everywhere fruit was sold from the biggest supermarkets to the smallest neighbourhood stores.

Farmers we spoke to had some knowledge of, and respect for, our sheep industry too.

Spain suffered from the years of oppression under Franco but it has been rapidly catching up. When we lived there four years ago, the EU was pouring billions of euros in to infrastructure and the country with a positive flow on effect on the economy.

New Zealand’s former dependence on British markets blinded us to opportunities in other parts of Europe in the past. This visit will  provide opportunities for trade and other relationships to our mutual benefit.


Payment by honour

March 24, 2009

How much would you pay for a meal if you could choose the amount yourself?

Barecelona restauranteur Eledino Garcia started letting patrons pay whatever they want for the daily special three weeks ago to help customers who had lost their jobs.

And the idea is actually working: Garcia says his daily take is up.

After a midday meal, diners who opted for the ¤10 ($13.56), three-course daily special get something other than a check.

“I give you an envelope, and you pay what you think it was worth, or whatever you can pay,” said Garcia, the 50-year-old owner of the small restaurant called Mireya.

. . .  Garcia says his trust in the public is paying off. Although he says he does not keep track of how much each person pays, no one seems to be taking advantage of him.

“People are better than we think,” Garcia said.

It was a gamble which has paid off and I’m delighted the trust Garcia showed in his patrons hasn’t been abused because, like him, I believe most people are good.

I have a vague memory that someone tried ths system in New Zealand and that people often paid more than they would have been charged in that restaurant too.


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