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Gibraltar on the Edge

Attack on cyclist and border delays seen as latest in long line of provocations

Gibraltarian protesters at the frontier in Winston Churchill Avenue


There's widespread fury in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar today after Spanish border control police attacked a local cyclist on Sunday and the Spanish government created delays of up to six hours at the frontier between Spain and the territory. The attack and delays come just over a month after Spanish police fired on a Gibraltarian who was riding a jet-ski in British Territorial water and they are being seen locally as the latest in a long line of provocations by the Spanish against the British.


In the latest incident, five Spanish border control police dragged a local cyclist, Wayne McKay, from his bicycle, restrained him and then allegedly beat him in an unprovoked attack this Sunday (29th July). The incident was caught on film by local witness and friend of the victim Gareth Gingell and can be seen here.


Mr McKay has been charged with attempted assault on a police officer and threatening behavior and has remained in Spanish custody. The Spanish police are not allowing Mr McKay to speak with his family until he appears in court today (29th July). Peter McKay, his brother, posted this on a political discussion group: "The aggression was unnecessary and my 60+ year old parents did not have to suffer what they have suffered today. I am terribly upset with the brutality of the situation and hope that these people will pay for the damage done to the mental and physical pain to my family, and the reputation it has brought us."


Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo made a swift appearance after being informed of the oppressive attack and asserts that the situation is "being taken up at the highest diplomatic and political level."


Tensions were already running high on The Rock due to the Spanish Civil Guard and Spanish border control police creating delays at the frontier going into Spain, for both Spanish workers and Gibraltarians. The delays have lasted up to six agonizing hours in the heat and appear to be an attempt to burden and inconvenience those living and working in Gibraltar. The UK government has refused to comment on whether it sees the delays as a reaction to Gibraltar building an artificial reef in British Territorial Waters and the Royal Gibraltar Police and Royal Navy gunships confronting Spanish civilians in boats who were attempting to prevent the work.


Speaking exclusively to Impolite Conversation, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said today: "This afternoon the Spanish frontier authorities started to create inordinate delays to traffic coming into Gibraltar as well as into Spain. The delays are unacceptable, unEuropean and undemocratic. These are the tactics that General Franco used against Gibraltar."


The Gibraltar Government quickly reacted to the situation and organized for 11,000 bottles of water to be given out for free by volunteers to all those trapped in the never ending queues into Spain; Gibraltarian and Spanish-registered cars alike. There have been reports of passengers suffering from heat stroke and other health conditions associated with extreme heat and the sheer monotony of sitting in a queue that lasts over double the amount of time it would take to travel from England to Gibraltar by plane.


Gibraltar is a tourist location which attracts over six million sun seekers a year. Locals see these traffic delays as an attempt to undermine Gibraltar and damage its reputation as a tourist location. The Chief Minister, when we asked why the Spanish have resorted to such behaviour, told us: "The Spanish Government have a long standing policy of creating deliberate delays at the land frontier with Gibraltar in order to make life difficult for Gibraltar. The reality is that their actions affect thousands of EU nationals who work in Gibraltar and live in Spain and who return home every weekend. The frontier is used a political weapon against Gibraltar."


The excessive border queues have been seen as an attempt to distract international attention from the Spanish economic failure, with 5 million people unemployed and serious allegations of corruption against the Spanish Prime Minister which will very likely will lead to his resignation. Even as the economic crisis has forced Spain to tie up most of its navy in port, the remaining ships at sea have been flexing what remains of Spanish military power in Gibraltar's territory.


Perhaps in a quixotic attempt to regain national pride, Madrid has taken to sailing its vessels in BTW and refusing to leave from the small navy detachment based on the Rock. With unemployment in Spain being one of the highest in Europe, reaching a staggering 26.8%, we would think that Spain's Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, would have more pressing and important issues on his hands.


The attack on Mr McKay is the second incident in just over a month involving the Spanish Civil Guard, historically reputed for their nationalist ideology and aggressive policing, and a Gibraltarian. On 23rd June 2013 Spain committed what has locally been regarded as an "act of war" when Civil Guards on a fast patrol boat allegedly shot at a Gibraltarian who was testing his new jet-ski close to shore in British Territorial Waters. The man in question, 30 year old Dale Villa, says he was giving rides to friends and members of his family, including children, when he was shot at.


Mr Villa, father of three, told the press: "When a huge boat is hurtling after you and you hear gunshots it is very scary. There were three policemen on the boat and I actually saw one of them with a gun in his hand." Since then two videos have emerged in which the Guardia Civil aggressively chase and shoot at the jet-ski. They can be seen here and here.


The veracity of his claims and video evidence of the shooting appears to have been accepted by London and in an unprecedented step, Prime Minister David Cameron personally protested to his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy in what has been described as an angry diplomatic complaint.


The initial reaction of the professional union of the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) has also raised eyebrows. They said that senior officers in the marine detachment at Algeciras seemed intent on provoking an incident with Gibraltar. This first statement was closely followed by one in which the union claimed that there had been no shooting at all.


The Guardia Civil has a particularly strong presence in Spanish affairs. Its motto is “Todo por la Patria” (All for the Fatherland). It embodies a strong nationalistic spirit. On 23rd February 1981 a detachment of Civil Guards lead by a Colonel Tejero stormed the parliament in Madrid and held legislators hostage during a failed coup d’etat. The 90,000 Civil Guards are widely thought of as a bastion for Spanishness and in these times of national economic humiliation opinion polls show the Guardia Civil to be among the most revered institutions and politicians and bankers the most despised.


The Spanish foreign ministry states that Gibraltar has no territorial waters because none were specifically mentioned in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713; which gave title of Gibraltar to the British Crown in perpetuity. The Gibraltar Government has asked Spain to take their claims to arbitration at the International Court of Justice but so far Madrid has shied away from testing its arguments in court.


What is known as "Article X" of the Treaty of Utretcht, signed on the 13th of July 1713 by Britain, France, Portugal, Savoy, The Dutch Republic and Spain, to end the war of the Spanish Succession, states: “The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.”


The Spanish argument has been that there was no explicit mention of Gibraltar's right to territorial waters. This has caused been the cause of much debate and conflict between Spain and Gibraltar. Jurists, however, point out that in the early 18th century, jurisdiction over waters did not used to be referred to in treaties transferring territory and that in any event the modern international law of the sea gives jurisdiction of between three and twelve miles around coastal areas.


The seriousness of this situation, it seems, has not been fully understood by Prime Minister David Cameron. Many Gibraltarians are left feeling ignored and abandoned by the British Government and ask why Mr Cameron has not done more than deliver a red-faced rant to Mariano Rajoy. With the fascist mentality that seems to dominate the Spanish Guardia Civil, the inhumane treatment of the British Gibraltarians, the warmongering and threatening behavior which not only insults Gibraltar, but is locally seen as spitting a putrid venom in the face of what is supposedly a "Great Britain", many in the UK and on The Rock will be wondering when Mr Cameron will finally pull his finger out and take appropriate action against these defiant insults and provocations.



Chris Gomez

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