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Post Gibraltar, Ceuta, Melilla: Good History and Bad Geography
Created by John Eipper on 07/29/23 3:14 AM

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Gibraltar, Ceuta, Melilla: Good History and Bad Geography (Mendo Henriques, Portugal, 07/29/23 3:14 am)

Apropos of an interesting take on Gibraltar by Anthony Candil (July 26th), JE asked me if I could weigh in. "As for the Portuguese, I don't think they have any interest in becoming the junior partner in a Greater Iberia. I hope Mendo Henriques will add his thoughts."

I will start with a short personal story. In the early 2000s when I worked at National Defense Institute, I was interested in border conflicts and as a researcher of Napoleonic wars I was aware of the issues involved in the Olivenza dispute between Portugal and Spain. From my official NDI email, I wrote to the CIA and I told them at length about a border conflict. The thing is that some good old chaps read my email and from then on the CIA Factbook states:

Spain-Portugal: Portugal does not recognize Spanish sovereignty over the territory of Olivenza based on a difference of interpretation of the 1815 Congress of Vienna and the 1801 Treaty of Badajoz.



I then wrote to the late Ambassador Maximo Cajal, a controversial personality and member of PSOE in Spain but a leading diplomat who was in 1970 a translator in an interview of Franco and De Gaulle.  He was so kind as to send me his book his 2003 book Ceuta, Melilla, Olivenza y Gibraltar. ¿Donde acaba España?

You will see, later on in this text, why it matters.

That said, I do not think that the convoluted questions about the territories of Ceuta, Gibraltar and Olivenza are particularly exciting, as they do not involve big tech, big money, big porn, big weed, big pharma, or the Meta world.

José Ignacio Soler is right that these issues were discussed on WAIS some 10 or 12 years ago.  Yet José Ignacio skips something as he writes, "Ceuta and Melilla (...) were finally recaptured by Portuguese and Spanish forces at the beginning of 15th century." Fact-checking, Ceuta was conquered in 1415 from the Marinids by a Portuguese expedition and it is a symbolic landmark for the beginning of our imperial expansion. The city remained Portuguese until 1640 when its governing council decided to become Spanish. Ceuta's flag has been similar to Lisbon's flag until today. (See photos below.)

A direct answer to JE‘s question and Anthony Candil's urge is that Spain and Portugal are members of the European Union and that is that. There is no chance that the peninsular public opinion would get excited about an Iberian Union. I agree with Anthony that Gibraltar is not a colony. It is the result of a war and a battle lost by Spain.

Incidentally, I am interested in Anthony's new book, El mito de la Batalla de Inglaterra. ‧

Back to Ambassador Cajal's 2003 book about three active border disputes in Spain, albeit with very different intensities. I agree with JE that legal technicalities aside, the "optics" are obvious: if Spain clamors for Gibraltar while holding on to Ceuta and Melilla, it smacks of hypocrisy. That was the focus of Maximo Cajal's book.

Cajal postulated the cession of Spanish possessions in North Africa to Morocco as a step prior to the recovery of Gibraltar, suggesting that Perejil be handed over immediately, while a transitional regime of twenty years for Melilla would be established and the cession of Ceuta be frozen until the return of Gibraltar by Great Britain.

The disputed regions of Ceuta, Melilla, Olivenza, and Gibraltar are the heritage of a colonial past. Good history but bad geography and insurmountable obstacles to a true normalization of Madrid's relations with London and Rabat.

More underhanded is the Portuguese request of Olivenza; a wound that time has not healed. The legal repertoire of both countries in defense of their respective positions has been exhausted. There is no longer any place to exhume old titles from past times; moreover, they do not find echoes in public opinion.

There is only room for political solutions in which Spain should play the leading role of common denominator, no matter how much it insists on ignoring the minor question of Olivenza and ignoring the existence of a dispute over Ceuta and Melilla, while periodically agitating claims to Gibraltar.

Ambassador Cajal designed a political solution that would have moral support and the applause of the Community of Nations, enabling Spain to undertake the recovery of Gibraltar without being accused of hypocrisy of not negotiating the future of Ceuta (etc.) and Olivenza.

It is a political utopia, but we know that some political utopias of the past become reality.

JE comments:  Fun with flags!  I never noticed the extreme similarity of the Ceuta and Lisbon's respective standards.  Both feature black-and-white "gyronny," defined in heraldry as "as shield divided into eight gyrons by straight lines all crossing at the fess point."  Didn't know that one.  Next we should ask, what the heck's a fess point?

Mendo, you've shown that bad geography can inspire excellent scholarship.  Well done.  Once again I'll reveal my ignorance, this time about the disputed town of Olivenza (population, 12,000).  We were only a few miles from there back in February.

Ceuta flag

Lisbon flag

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