Road to Gibraltar; Dependence and livelihood in La Línea and Gibraltar

The protagonists first described the harsh life conditions in their childhood and youth; hunger, shortages and precarious work, which some continued suffering until recently. They went on with the repression during or after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939): their participation in the war, imprisonment or exile of relatives, and discrimination at work due to their political ideas: especially being denied the opportunity to work in Gibraltar. Then, memories arose in relation to the political relations between Spain and Gibraltar and their impact at work and in family life: difficulties to obtain save-conducts to the colony, strict control over transfer of products, closure of the border and the forced transfers after losing their jobs. They are clearly a generation that has had some opportunities due to their proximity to the colony, while at the same time has been subjected to economic interests, like a chessboard piece moved according to power interests.

(…) El Campo de Gibraltar, a region with great social deprivation. La Línea is an urban and proletarian town (and therefore combatant and persecuted), whose origin and fate cannot be separated from its nearby sister town, Gibraltar. In the last century, smuggling has been its life engine (a means of survival for some, of wealth for others), articulated in the tobacco industry. It is a city that provides for the needs of the neighboring military base, and with another main industry whose dimensions are as yet to be determined: the industry of sex.

In the 1950s, a priest working in La Línea was moved to another town because he denounced the flagrant reality at La Línea. Currently, local documents tend to avoid the city’s recent history, or they just summarize it in a simple statement: “Hard times of hunger and poverty”, or “The years of the ‘matuteo’ (smuggling) and “mandaos”. The web page entitled “History of the Parish” refers to the church properties and brotherhoods; and the site entitled “History of La Línea” only talks about its leaders. The history of the “linenses” (people from La Línea) and therefore the history of the Gibraltarians, who talks about it?

The protagonists have been privileged witnesses of situations difficult to perceive from well-off positions. “As I was a house painter, I was everywhere, and I realized many things”, says Antonio Barros. (…) When Francisca Aguilar was pointed out to the workshop, some relatives warned her: “Don’t you say nothing of the war!”. And well into the course, one of the participants told me: “Don’t go saying that we were all smugglers!” Powerless, Antonio Barros lamented not being able to freely speak of what happened to his relatives. Repression and criminalization was especially cruel with the women and men who took a political stand that did not benefit the powerful classes, as well as with those who kept their families going thanks to illegal jobs (jobs that hardly allowed them to succeed).

In this imposed or accepted silence, stigma (smuggler, ‘matutera’, red or commie, Mason, or bad woman) determines fate, creates confusion and penalizes without trial or sentence. It is disturbing to note that many affected people feel ashamed of it, even feel guilt. At the same time, and not by chance, this thick curtain leaves unpunished those who benefited greatly from this jobs for survival, and those who have evaded their responsibility, walking away with their heads high.

Francisca Aguilar explains: “When they tell me, ‘Stop telling stories, it is over’, I say, ‘This is the History of life. Didn’t it happened to me?’. If we didn’t speak out things, there would be no history, and books wouldn’t exist… and I like reading very much!”. By revealing what has been lived, we break impunity down, the impunity supported in silence and the stigma. It’s an essential step to put facts in their right place and to restore dignity to its protagonists.

Excerpt to the Introduction, “Road to Gibraltar” (Sevilla, 2011)

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