surinenglish

15 December 1982: Goodwill gesture reopens Gibraltar border after 13 years

The gates were unlocked at midnight.
The gates were unlocked at midnight. / SUR
  • Following years of negotiations between Spain's newly elected socialist party and Margaret Thatcher's conservative government, Spain finally lifted its blockade of Gibraltar on Wednesday 15 December 1982

Following years of negotiations between Spain's newly elected socialist party and Margaret Thatcher's conservative government, Spain finally lifted its blockade of Gibraltar on Wednesday 15 December 1982. The heavy black iron gates that separated the rock from mainland Spain were opened at midnight to a stream of tearful relatives, many of whom were looking forward to being reunited with family and friends at Christmas for the first time in 13 years.

About 1,000 people stood on each side of the border, which Franco sealed in 1969, as the Spanish civil guard unceremoniously unlocked the gates.

Spain's new socialist government decided to open the border as a &ldquohumanitarian gesture&rdquo for those families separated by the blockade. The opening of the border brought to an end a period of isolation begun by General Francisco Franco. The British government considered the Spanish restrictions to be unjustifiable and claimed it was inconceivable that the frontier should remain closed in an enlarged European Community, describing the restrictions as an act of hostility.

Before 1969, thousands of Spanish workers made their living in Gibraltar and a lively trade existed between La Línea and the Rock. When the gate was shut almost half the population of La Línea lost their jobs and Gibraltar looked to Morocco to supplement its workforce.

The British colony was relieved that the isolation was finally coming to an end; the Gibraltarians would no longer have to ask the Spanish authorities for permission to cross the border.

In January 1981, hopes were growing that the Spanish government would be able to present the case for opening the frontier in a favourable light to the Spanish public. A meeting between the prime ministers of the UK and Spain in early 1982 resulted in the reopening of the border on 15 December of that year.

However, despite the goodwill gesture by the Spanish authorities, the frontier was opened under tight restrictions, which only allowed access to Spanish citizens and inhabitants of Gibraltar. It banned any British or foreign tourists, as well as cars and commercial vehicles crossing from Gibraltar to Spain.

The government of Gibraltar reacted angrily to the restrictions and threatened to retaliate. The ruling council of ministers voted not to keep the Gibraltar side of the border open 24 hours a day like the Spaniards, deciding instead to close it from 1am to 6am. However, this was overruled by the British Foreign Office.

It would take another two years of patient negotiations before restrictions were finally lifted on 5 February 1985, allowing free movement between Spain and Gibraltar.