The residents of La Línea de la Concepción are leaving, like rats deserting a sinking ship.
They’ve been crossing the border by the thousands since early morning, first the cleaning women, nannies and construction workers, and then the smugglers. They all want to get out of Spain, if only for a few hours. There is work across the border, in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, and work spells hope for a better life.
La Linea has around a 40% unemployment rate and it’s rising.
Many Families have had to resort to smuggling cigarettes in order to put food on their plates.
Several trips per day will be made by ‘Matuteras’ overweight women, who can hide more easily excess cartons of cigarettes about their person.
The women set out across the border. The more experienced ones wear their ID cards on a chain around their necks, so that they don’t have to search for it every time they cross the border. One carton of cigarettes per person and crossing is allowed. Those who do not get checked and registered put on different clothes on the Spanish side and set out for Gibraltar again.
The border crossers make a profit of €4 per carton. The operators of the kiosks on the Spanish side, who will sell the cigarettes later, collect another €6. The actual retail price is another €9 higher. But the retail price is no longer important in La Línea, where five of the several regular tobacco shops have gone out of business
The fact that many people “prefer to make €200 a day smuggling cigarettes than €400 a month as an unskilled worker in a supermarket,” as a Guardia Civil officer at the border puts it, doesn’t make things easier.
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Spanish officials lose no time to restate that Spain wants to demote Gibraltar’s presence at talks to that of a municipality. Effectively they are saying that the much trumpeted trilateral forum is dead and buried.
There can be two flags or four flags, but not three flags – those of Britain, Spain and Gibraltar.
By two flags they mean those of Britain and Spain. By four flags they mean those of Britain and Spain, plus the flag of Gibraltar at a par with that of La Linea or some other part of the Campo area.
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A diplomatic row has broken out over the decision to ban Spanish fishing boats from Gibraltarian waters.
Spanish fishermen are In breach of the 1991 Nature Protection Act according to The Gibraltar Government who are accusing them of using illegal fishing nets and method.
A ban on fishing within a three mile radius is being enforced. Previously fishing boats were allowed within 225 metres of the shore. However there were some restrictions regarding this.
The Gibraltar Federation of Sea Anglers last week issued a statement expressing the view that there can be no return to what they term as “the infamous and illegal” Fishing Agreement of 1999. they called on the Government “to hold firm in their decision to rescind the agreement.”
“Tearing up this agreement has enabled the law enforcement agencies to apply the Nature Protection Act 1991 fully without exceptions.”
The GFSA completely support for the Government over this issue. They said, “It is unacceptable that anyone is able to come to your country and abuse its laws by claiming that they have been exempted from them.
“Would the Spanish Government reciprocate by exempting Gibraltarians from a requirement to hold fishing licenses, enabling them to fish anywhere in Spain including within their marine reserves and to target protected species whilst their own people had to abide by their marine protection and fisheries laws? GFSA very much doubts this.
The Spanish Government has complained to the British Embassy, while Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has held talks with Algeciras mayor Jose Ignacio Landaluce to discuss the issue.
Picardo has made Gibraltar’s position clear on the controversy, saying: “Nobody can come here to fish, French, Spaniard, German or otherwise, in breach of our laws.”
His Spanish counterpart Landaluce had earlier joined a flotilla of Spanish boats on a ‘protest sail’ into Gibraltar waters after complaining that the ban breached the 1991 agreement.
The mayor, who claims to be protecting the livelihoods of 300 fishermen, said: “I do not understand the attitude being taken by the Gibraltar Government.
“But it will not be allowed that our fishermen are ejected from the Spanish waters that surround the Rock.”