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50 years on, La Linea roundtable shares the trauma of a closed border

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by María Jesús Corrales Martín

The impact of the frontier closure 50 years ago was the subject of a round table discussion in La Línea yesterday that brought together speakers from Gibraltar and the Spanish city.

Residents from both sides of the frontier spoke about how each community survived the closure in 1969 until the border was reopened again in 1982.

The discussion was led by retired teacher and writer from La Línea Juan Domingo Macias, Gibraltarian historian Tito Vallejo, Cross Frontier Group vice-president Lorenzo Pérez-Periáñez, La Línea’s culture councillor Encarnación Sanchez, former La Linea mayor Juan Carmona, Unite the Union representative Michael Netto and cross frontier worker Momo Valle Lima.

They all spoke about how they lived in that era when there was a lot of political uncertainty, describing how families were torn apart and how the closed frontier caused a “humanitarian disaster” in La Línea and Gibraltar.

The Spanish speakers described how the population in La Línea reduced by half, from 80,000 residents to 40,000 during that time.

Mr Valle Lima spoke about the Franco government infrastructure that was built in the city.

He said: “This did not serve to boost development, as the government had promised, but the industries that injected income into region were instead built in neighbouring cities.”

Mr Netto said the frontier closure had a negative impact on people as well as the cultural and social aspects of society.

However, he added: “From an economic and political perspective, the closure of the frontier led to an evolution in Gibraltar.”

“The women joined the labour force and there were demands for equal rights from all residents.”

Mr Vallejo recalled the “delicate moments” before the actual closure and said: “The democracy that we have in Gibraltar is something we fought for, by going on strikes and holding protests to demand our rights.”

“When the frontier was closed, local housewives came out onto the streets to defend women’s rights and they all volunteered to work in the hospital kitchens and bakeries.”
“Everyone worked together.”

“The students would also go down to the Piazza and help out with whatever else needed to be done.”

Both Mr Perez-Periáñez and Mr Carmona spoke about last days before the closure and the work carried out by Mr Carmona who was the mayor when the frontier reopened.

He said there was a tight control at the border when it first reopened as Spain was gearing up to join the European Economic Community in 1986.

Ms Sanchez said it is important for the younger generations to learn about the history and that they are aware of the “hindrance” on the community caused by the border closure.

She also highlighted the importance for both communities to continue strengthening their ties and that such a traumatic experience must never be allowed to happen again.

“We are two united nations and we cannot allow this to happen again,” she said.