Another United Nations session, another dialogue of the deaf.
At least this year members of the Fourth Committee heard a different voice from both Spain and Gibraltar. Agustín Santos Maraver was only appointed UN ambassador in August, while deputy chief minister Joseph Garcia was an eleventh-hour replacement for chief minister Fabian Picardo who travelled to London instead of New York for Brexit-related meetings.
Señor Santos’s speech must have gone down better, laced as it was with flattery. He commended the “important work” carried out by the Committee, ignoring the fact that the failure of the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism in the 1990s simply led to a Second Decade and then a Third, with just one territory (East Timor) removed in all that time from the UN list of non-self-governing territories.
Joseph Garcia on the other hand nailed it. “The process of decolonisation has now almost ground to a halt”, he declared. At the present rate it would take the Committee 510 years to complete its work.
The Spanish ambassador’s address has been described locally as “nuanced” but it was still pretty unfriendly, containing the usual gripes about Gibraltar’s tax system and tobacco smuggling. Nevertheless Sr. Santos claimed that Spain remains open to dialogue.
Well, here was a golden opportunity to prove it and announce Madrid’s willingness to return to the Tripartite Forum that was established when his party, the PSOE, was last in power. But what does he do? He bemoans that the long-dead Brussels Process was “unilaterally” suspended by the UK. No matter that the much more recent Trilateral Forum which delivered, among other things, the Spanish pensions deal, was scuppered just as unilaterally by the previous Partido Popular government.
Thankfully, in his right of reply, the UK representative Tim Sylvester reminded him that it was Spain that withdrew formally from those talks in 2011. He also rejected the ambassador’s hostile assertion that the waters around Gibraltar “remain under Spanish sovereignty”, warning that the UK “will continue to uphold British sovereignty and use a range of proportionate naval and diplomatic responses to illegal incursions by Spanish state vessels into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters”.
The ambassador blamed Britain for the existence of the “last colony in Europe” and said this was all the more unjustifiable given that in many respects the UK is a friend and partner. Had he been minded to, Mr Sylvester could have pointed out that both countries are NATO allies, yet the Spanish government still forbids UK military aircraft from entering Spanish airspace. Justify that.
In one of his less positive nuances, Sr. Santos studiously avoided calling the Rock’s inhabitants “Gibraltarians”. We are merely the “local population of Gibraltar”, because the “authentic” Gibraltarians were the Spaniards who fled or, in his words, were “expelled” by the British in 1704.
All in all, rather a strange way to go about wooing someone to the negotiating table.
And the UN hasn’t covered itself in glory either.
It has not responded to repeated requests that it send a visiting mission to Gibraltar.
It has not told us what changes, if any, are required to the 2006 Constitution in order to secure Gibraltar’s removal from the list of non-self-governing territories. And there is silence on our delisting.
“It’s almost as if the United Nations does not want to work with us”, Joseph Garcia lamented.
As I say, the dialogue of the deaf.
When I interviewed Sir Joshua Hassan as a rookie reporter in the mid 1980s the UN had for the umpteenth time adopted its annual consensus decision on Gibraltar. He brushed it aside. Every year they meet, every year they talk and every year they publish more or less the same text, he said. Then they forget about it until the following year, when they do it all over again.
Maybe we should be just as relaxed about remaining on the UN list.