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Friday, 26 February 2016

Trouble in Paradise

With friend
Justin in Ceuta
By Richard Carreño
[WC News Service]
In geography, as in many things, according to the well-worn cliché, what goes around, comes around. No, not global rotation. But as in diplomatic tit for tat, bred by a mutual territorial disaffection. In other words, a variant of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY), the kind of school-yard squabbling between two nations when one country believes it owns a certain patch. But the other, doesn't.
It can get nasty. More than twenty years ago, Argentina undertook a full-scale military assault against British forces to 'reclaim' the Falkland Islands. And also petty: One of the major Argentine aims was to rename the British protectorate, basically assembly of forlorn rocks, to its former native name, Las Malvinas.  Despite many deaths, the islands are still known as the Falklands.  No surprise, then, who prevailed in that ill-fated skirmish.
For the most part, international haggling about property rights is less fraught. Even Vladimir Putin's land grab of historically-Russian Crimea was done without firing a shot -- in Crimea, at least.

How countries wind up with affiliated territories and even sovereign 'off-site' states, as in the case of the United States (Hawaii and Alaska) and France (St. Pierre et Miquelon, two islands off Newfoundland; and a bunch of real estate in the Caribbean), results from the messy bits of history and circumstance. For the most part, most countries are agreeable neighbours, as is Canada to the Americans in the West and French in the East. Even the Cubans are pretty much silent on their rightful claim to Guantanamó, part of a US land grab dating to the imperialistic Spanish-American War.
Did someone say Spanish?

Interestingly enough Spain is the only country in modern times (as of last week, at any rate) that is both 'victim' and 'perpetrator' in these testy real estate intrigues -- embracing hundreds of years of history and who knows how much international bad blood.

Step up Britain and Morocco.

Exhibits A and B in the diplomatic wrangling between Spain and these countries are two remote places that, upon consideration, one often wonders what the fuss is all about. The first, of course, is British Gibraltar, the two-square mile home of the famous Rock. The other is lesser-known Ceuta, a Spanish coastal resort town that -- oops! -- happens to be situated over the Strait of Gibraltar in North Africa, sandwiched between Morocco and the Mediterranean.

Who's on First? Who's on Second? This is where it gets tricky for Spain. On one hand, Spain wants to evict the Brits from Gibraltar. On the other, the Moroccans want to oust the Spaniards from Ceuta and another nearby Spanish patch, known as Melilla, The upshot has been tawdry, an unending pissing match among the three countries. So far, since 1713 when Britain was ceded the Overseas Territory under the Treaty of Utrecht, and from 1640, when the Ceuta pledged its allegiance to the Spanish crown, the score remains 0-0-0. At least, no lives have been lost.

My son Justin and I travelled to both places earlier this month. We were working on fumes by the time we got to Barajas-Madrid airport in the early morning en route, first, to Gibraltar. Making matters worse, our jet-lagged disposition got no immediate respite --- thanks to Spain's spat with the UK over the Rock. The result: Gibraltar is a sort of no-man's land in Spain, a you-can't-get-there-from-here kind of place.

Catch a connecting flight? Spain prohibits internal air transport to the territory. Yes, one can take a train south to Malaga, somewhat nearby. But then there's the necessity of a rental car to complete the trip.

We decided to drive straight through -- itself a bit of a challenge when you start approaching the destination. There's seemingly no end to Spain's petulance over Gibraltar. There's a road to the Rock, but no road signs until you arrive at La Linea de Concepcion, Gibraltar's Spanish border town. Never mind. The Rock shoots up straight, can't be missed, and is the ultimate landmark.

Formalities at the border crossing were surprising smooth. In fact, the Spanish passport control agent was delightful. Her gruff boss was another matter. You want your passports stamped? Are you kidding, buster, was the attitude.

The colony has the appearance of many of Britain's possessions in the Caribbean. Think, Nassau for one. Tourism is less of a factor, though, as Gibraltar is still is an important British naval base. Otherwise it just seems to be a hangout for ex-pat Brits, many ex-military who know the place from tours of duty.

One such agreeable bloke was John, who, with his mates, were downing a continuous flow of pints at the Trafalgar, a happening pub in the town centre.

 'How did you wind up here?' I asked John. 'I married an indigenous,' he replied.
'A what?'

'A native girl,' he explained. 'She was born here.'

I turned to some youths -- minus pint mugs -- who were tossing about a soccer ball nearby.

'You guys enjoy it here?' I inquired.

'It's awright,' one responded.

'What to do you?'

'Nothing much.'

Even upon entering Gibraltar, we sense there was something was dodgy about the place. Immediately after passport control, the road crosses the airport's main runway, Right! Any incoming? Fortunately, vehicular barriers, like those at train crossings, lower when the morning flight from London comes in.

'Nice coat,' John added, as Justin and I were departing the Trafalgar.


'Your coat. Its from Barbour.'

I didn't have to ask him what he thought about Spain's claim to his wife's birthplace.

Late that afternoon, we started driving to Algeciras, the nearby port town, for the 45-minute ferry ride to Ceuta -- and North Africa.

As Gibraltar is a bit of Olde England colonial, Ceuta, consisting of a 22-square-kilometre peninsula, is reminiscent of many of coastal resorts on mainland Spain. Beaches, shopping, fishing, and sailing dominate in its historical setting, a mix of ancient Arab, Portuguese, Spanish and Jewish cultures. And now dominated by Spanish tourists. 

And an influx of Moroccan illegal aliens, many of whom climb over fences that impede -- but never seem to quite prevent -- their migration to the fruits of a European Union sanctuary.

'That unfortunately is what we're known for in the international press,' a tourism official named Toni told me.

Adding to the turmoil, the Moroccan government continues to champion the repatriation of Ceuta to its jurisdiction.

Like the Spanish claim to Gibraltar, maybe? Actually, more like Alaska. Consider if Russia wanted the return of the 49th state by voiding Fulton's Folly.

Stalemate. Anger. And hours-long lines to cross the border to and from Morocco by vehicle.

On the morning that our ferry departed to return to mainland Spain, we learned that there's even more trouble in paradise: Islamic jihadists.

The local paper, El Pueblo, reported that  a 58-year-old male terrorist was arrested overnight in Ceuta by the national police, as part of coordinated sweep that netted seven jihadists in all.