The closure of the border between Gibraltar and Spain in 1969 was one of the “building blocks” of Gibraltarian identity, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said yesterday, adding that the “traumatic event” hardened this community’s resolve to defend its British sovereignty.
Dr Garcia was speaking at the launch of an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary this Saturday of the closure of the border.
Gibraltar’s history spanned the walls of the John Mackintosh Hall, with some 350 images detailing the political, social and economic climate in the years prior to and during the closed frontier period.
It is almost 50 years ago that on June 8, 1969, the border was shut by Spain under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
“General Franco threw down the gauntlet to the people of Gibraltar,” said Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia.
“We rose to the challenge. He predicted that Gibraltar would fall like a ripe fruit. He could not have been more mistaken.”
“The closure of the border was one of our building blocks of nationhood. It shaped our distinct identity as Gibraltarians. It made us who we are.”
“We stood up to the Spanish dictator. We hardened in our resolve to defend our sovereignty. That fruit will never fall from the tree.”
As part of the exhibition, the frontier gates that were closed and locked 50 years ago can be seen at the entrance of the John Mackintosh Hall.
The gates were close to being thrown away as scrap before they were made available to the government.
At the opening of the exhibition Dr Garcia called the closure of the border a “traumatic event” for Gibraltar.
He remarked how telecommunications had been “cut off” and how the Rock became “a city under siege”.
“Under their Foreign Minister Castiella, Spain developed a two-pronged strategy over Gibraltar,” Dr Garcia said.
“The first was to pressure the United Kingdom through a diplomatic onslaught at the United Nations in New York. The second was to progressively tighten the screws against Gibraltar here through mounting restrictions on land, in the air and at sea.”
“Some of those restrictions remain in place today.”
Dr Garcia described the economic consequences of thousands of Spanish workers withdrawn from Gibraltar overnight. Gibraltar turned to Morocco for labour and food, and local women joined the workforce to cover the shortfall.
There were also “human consequences” from the border closure with families torn apart. During the closed frontier years many chose to visit the frontier regularly to catch a glimpse of their family members.
This history of Gibraltar is spread on over 200 panels that are on display at lower and upper exhibition rooms in the John Mackintosh Hall.
The panels on display include press cuttings, photographs and documents, some of which has been provided by the public. The bulk of the material on display has been produced by the Gibraltar National Archives.
There are eight different sections split across three exhibition rooms. The material on display covers the events leading up to the closure from 1950 until 1969.
The topics are headed reprisals, closure, segregation, aftermath, protest, opening, and campaign.
A compilation of recordings produced by Gibraltarian broadcaster the late Manolo Mascarenhas is also available, together with international coverage of the closure.
Oral histories in the form of interviews feature many local people who lived through the closed border era.
The exhibition is open as from today until June 14.
Pics by Johnny Bugeja