Juan Carmona de Cózar, Ex-Mayor of La Linea on the closure of the Spain-Gibraltar Frontier in 1969.
I was exactly 18 years and one day old. On the 8th of June 1969, at midnight, the decree which many had seen coming was implemented.
It was an inevitability after the escalation in the assault and battery of Gibraltar, described by those in charge at the time as “the ripe fruit” that undoubtedly would fall.
It was in 1954, the same year that Queen Elizabeth II made her official visit to the Rock which has been “ceded in perpetuity” by the Spanish Crown in the Treaty of Utrecht, that Generalissimo Franco began executing his strategy to close the Gibraltar-Spain Frontier.
By then, he was more confident on the international stage after the isolation that Spain had gone through after the Second World War, and thanks to the explicit support of the US after the visit of the President, who in exchange received military bases, Franco decided to act.
Inspired by his minister Castiella, Franco saw the opportunity and set his strategy in motion.
On the one hand, at the United Nations, which was in the process of decolonisation of territories still administered by European nations, and on the other truncating the decades of good relations between Gibraltar and the Campo, and a process of osmosis that, whilst, slow had proved to be inexorable, between La Línea and Gibraltar.
The closing was gradual and selective. Passes were not renewed (at first for women) and passage through the frontier was hindered…
In the end, 4,000 workers and a few entrepreneurs were the only ones left, along with hundreds of Gibraltarians who lived on the Spanish side; some of them had businesses, and all of them spent part of their daily lives here, especially in La Linea, which was totally dependent on Gibraltar, although, there were a few cases in which the dependence was the other way round.
Many products were bought in Gibraltar (I especially remember the corned beef), and Gibraltarians would also buy products in La Linea, especially fresh produce.
The Gibraltarians of that time have not forgiven, and the effects were, and still are, very negative. For a long time, they will not forgive; new generations are losing the use of Spanish. All of a sudden, they were ‘Anglified’.
And in La Linea, there was a massive exodus in the weeks and months that followed the closure of the Frontier; the promises, the aid, and the new jobs, either did not arrive or were very scarce.
The promised industrialisation did arrive, but not in La Linea. A stadium today almost in ruins for our second division team and an unsustainable park… in all, some 35,000 people left La Linea, which was half the population.
Many moved to London because they were familiar with the English way of working and with the language.
My experience when I was mayor is unforgettable. The Casa de La Linea in London had more than 7,000 members. They even celebrated the fair there and elected their beauty pageant queen. I was invited on several occasions.
There was once even a street called ‘Linea Street’ – I do not know if that is still there. After several years, many who left La Linea retired and returned.
Thirteen years later I was a witness and promoter of the opening of the Frontier, which was also gradual, but the damage was irreversible. And now Brexit. A closure is no longer possible, but a consideration of a European border with a third country.
What will the consequences be?