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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 14:29 GMT
Gibraltar's best friend in Spain
Street scene in La Linea
The mayor may have cleaned up but there remains little on offer here
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Inside Gibraltar Catherine Miller

By Catherine Miller
BBC News Online's reporter in Gibraltar

The mayor of La Linea is a man stuck, quite literally, between a rock and a hard place.

The town, just on the other side of Gibraltar's border, is at the front line of the dispute between Spain and the UK over the sovereignty of the territory.

Whatever the outcome of the current negotiations, it will directly affect the some 60,000 people who live there.

But Juan Carlos Juarez doesn't like talking about the sovereignty issue.

"A Gibraltar in Spain is, perhaps, one of the solutions - the prime minister is saying that," he says with deliberate vagueness.

He adds; "They have a special identity and they have to keep it - that is good for them and good for us."

Stuck in the middle

Mr Juarez is known as something of an Andalucian Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who launched a controversial "zero tolerance" policy on crime and disorder.

Mayor Juarez in his office
Mayor Juarez has to tread carefully
In the past few years, he has swept beggars and drug-addicts from the streets and cleaned up the beach front and frontier area.

Now he has plans for hotel, golf and marina developments.

But despite his efforts, La Linea is not a pretty place.

A big dirty refinery blots the bay and run-down properties stagnate next to the new construction projects.

Alone, it will never be a money-spinner; the Rock is the region's cash cow.

Mutual relations

Richard, a Gibraltarian who works in the construction industry, lives in the well-heeled district of Sotogrande, just next to La Linea.

Some people are thinking more about economic solutions than about sovereignty

Mayor Juarez
Rents there are cheaper than in Gibraltar, where housing is in short supply.

Though he earns his salary in Gibraltar and pays his taxes there, he spends his money in Spain.

The only cash he leaves behind on the Rock is spent on VAT-free petrol, and on the blackcurrant drink Ribena, which is sold in the British-owned supermarket Safeways, but not yet in local Spanish shops.

About 500 other Gibraltarians live in Sotogrande alone, with many more scattered along the bay.

In addition, about 3,000 local people from the Campo de Gibraltar region bring home wages from the Rock.

Paul Cosquieri's company, called 123 printers, employs two of them.

Enrique Antequera comes over from Algeciras, while Adela Lopez Perez rides her motorbike across the border from La Linea.

As a graphic designer, Adela says she had little hope of finding a similar job in the Campo de Gibraltar area, where the employment situation is bleak.

Costs and queues

Mr Cosquieri makes the best of both the Spanish and Gibraltarian worlds, producing a real estate magazine aimed at mainly British expats on the Costa del Sol.

Queues at the Spanish border
Long queues at the border impede business relations
Though his natural tendency used to be to work with UK firms, times have now changed.

The pound is strong and the by working with Spanish partners he saves on transport costs.

"The way Europe is now going it's more feasible to deal with the likes of Barcelona than to deal with the UK," he said.

This kind of symbiotic relationship is exactly what Mr Juarez wants to foster, and for him, the economic health of the region should top the agenda of the negotiations on Gibraltar's future.

The way Europe is now going it's more feasible to deal with the likes of Barcelona than to deal with the UK

Paul Cosquieri
Gibraltar businessman
"A lot of people want to know about what the economic solutions between Spain and the UK for this area are," he says.

"Economic solutions are more important than sovereignty."

Yet the issue Mr Juarez doesn't want to talk about cannot be avoided.

Long queues at the Spanish border are a serious inconvenience to Mr Cosquieri, who crosses over at least two or three times a week to market his publication on the Costa.

Some businesses also struggle with telecommunications restrictions.

Spain does not recognise Gibraltar's dialling code, causing a technical snarl-up which leaves Gibraltar with only a limited range of working phone numbers and long delays for those wanting new ones.

A solution to the territorial dispute could end these problems.

This is the third of a series of reports from Gibraltar, as Spain and the UK attempt to end a longstanding dispute over the British dependency's status.

  Click here for the Rocky road to Spain

  Click here for Growing up on the Rock

See also:

14 Mar 02 | Europe
Growing up on the Rock
13 Mar 02 | Europe
The rocky road to Spain
22 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar row rumbles on
11 Feb 02 | UK Politics
'Gibraltar wants to remain British'
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw accused of Gibraltar betrayal
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