Spain's foreign minister made a historic border
crossing to the disputed British colony of Gibraltar on Tuesday,
the first by a Spanish Cabinet minister since the Rock was ceded
almost 300 years ago.
Miguel Angel Moratinos said Spain did not renounce its claim to
the small British-held outcrop on Spain's southern tip, but it
believes cooperation is the way to resolve disputes and improve
standards for the multicultural territory's 30,000 residents.
"We have been hitting ourselves against the rock of
incomprehension for too many years, and what we have to do now
precisely is to open channels so we may understand each other
better," Moratinos said after meeting with British counterpart
David Miliband and Gibraltar Chief Minister Peter Caruana.
Spain ceded sovereignty of Gibraltar to Britain in a 1713
treaty, but has persistently sought its return, claiming the
territory as a natural and historic part of its geography. The
outcropping is in the Strait of Gibraltar, for centuries a
strategic waterway linking the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
In their talks, Moratinos, Miliband and Caruana discussed issues
that concern the colony including fishing, fiscal control,
security, environmental issues and crime, while they agreed to
sidestep questions of sovereignty.
The ministers hailed the meeting as "historic," and agreed to
expand links between Spain and the colony including with a new
ferry route between Gibraltar and Algeciras and a hot line between
the two cities to discuss bilateral issues directly.
"Problems get solved through dialogue and cooperation,"
Moratinos said. "We must look to the future and not to the past."
Spanish officials have visited Gibraltar before, but Moratinos
is the first minister to do so.
His trip has been criticized by Spain's opposition conservative
Popular Party, however, as a "terrible mistake" that is
tantamount to recognizing Gibraltar as a sovereign territory.
Spain's governing Socialist Party spokesman Leire Pajin insisted
that "the issue of sovereignty is not at stake," and the trip
would help improve life in Gibraltar for its residents and the
estimated 12,000 Spaniards who cross over daily to work there.
Most residents of the Rock speak perfect Spanish and even own
property along Spain's Mediterranean coast.
Disputes over issues such as customs and border matters, fishing
rights, Gibraltar's offshore banking practices and smuggling have
long embittered relations.
The issue of regaining Gibraltar is still a heartfelt cause for
many Spaniards. About 30 people gathered on the Spanish side of the
border to protest the visit Tuesday. In Gibraltar itself, where
residents have consistently backed the status quo, several British
Union Jack flags hung from balconies.
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