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Britain And Spain In Deadlock Over Gibraltar

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Spain's time zone might be changing, but something that isn't is the continuing standoff between the Spanish government and the British Protectorate of Gibraltar. In a breach of international law, a UK diplomatic bag was opened by Spanish border guard, as the pouch was being taken from Gibraltar into Spain. This is just the latest in a number of incidents in recent months.

Dominique Searle is editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle and he joins us. Thanks very much for being with us.

DOMINIQUE SEARLE: Thank you.

SIMON: So help us understand this pitched struggle between the two.

SEARLE: Well, it's a 300-plus year old dispute between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar, but until about 10 years ago, the issue was becoming a little bit calmer. The government changed in Spain a year and a half ago and this government obviously is facing a lot of economic and other difficulties, has put the focus back on Gibraltar and people in Gibraltar feel that it's going back to the days of General Franco who was the dictator in Spain who used to pick up on Gibraltar as a distraction from a lot of the issues, domestic issues affecting Spain.

SIMON: In shorthand, the Spanish government believes its our rock, it's attacked to us, it ought to be ours. The British government believes, wait one bloody minute here, we've got a treaty and covenants and agreements.

SEARLE: That's it, and of course in the middle of all that is a community that's evolved over a long period of time, and we are all British citizens and this is our town and this is where we feel belong. And Spain has never been nice to us, so there's no reason why we're going to want to be with Spain.

SIMON: It's a little hard to imagine the outrage of opening a diplomatic bag. What was going on there?

SEARLE: Well, I think it's basically symbolic. This year's been difficult for us because they've started to increase pressure at the border and if you imagine as soon as you put on queues - which in the summer reached seven hours - to cross a border that normally takes anything between 10 and 20 minutes to cross, you can imagine the sense of frustration that that creates.

And I think the diplomatic bag, if you like, is notching it up because it's hitting not the local population, it hits British diplomacy, which obviously has a global standing and which, you know, is not going go be taken very well here.

SIMON: I guess it's tempting for us sitting across the Atlantic to view this as a little bit like that old Peter Sellers' film, "The Mouse that Roared," but this has real implications for people, doesn't it?

SEARLE: Well, I think, yes, it has implications for people and I think our biggest worry is that initially you get a lot of strong support from the British government, you get a lot of support from British newspapers, but after a while what isn't normal can become normal, you know.

It's the first time, certainly in the last 30 years, that I've experienced the level of discrimination building up, personal attitudes. I mean, people in Gibraltar are now worried because if they park the car somewhere in Spain, invariably someone vandalizes it.

We're feeling very much like a minority being pressured by groups of people. I mean, obviously most Spaniards are quite fine with us, but you know, when the government is being aggressive towards a people, you'll always get a lot of groups who go out there feeling that they're empowered to do this sort of thing.

SIMON: Dominique Searle is editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

SEARLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.