The State of Spain consists of a number of autonomous communities established in accordance to the second article of the Spanish Constitution which recognises the rights of regions and nationalities to self-government whilst also acknowledging the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’.
Currently, Spain comprises seventeen autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, both of which are on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.
Ceuta remains an autonomous city of Spain and an exclave located on the north coast of North Africa and separated from the Iberian peninsula by the Strait of Gibraltar, it lies on the border of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and along with the other Spanish exclave Melilla are the only Spanish territories located in mainland Africa.
This is a legacy of the Spanish Protectorate system that was established in 1912 over the northern provinces of Morocco. This made some sense and a legal argument because many people lived there who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1497 respectively after the end of the Reconquista.
The Spanish Civil War started in 1936 with the uprising of the Spanish troops stationed in África (as the Protectorate was informally known in the Spanish military parlance) under the command of Francisco Franco against the Republican Government and these troops became the core of the Nationalist Army. Because the local Muslim troops had been among Franco’s earliest supporters, the protectorate enjoyed more political freedom than Franco-era Spain proper after his victory, with competing political parties and a Moroccan nationalist press often criticizing the Spanish government and getting away with it.
In 1956, when French Morocco became independent, Spain discontinued the Protectorate and surrendered the territory to the newly independent kingdom on 7th April while retaining the plazas de soberanía, Ifni and other colonies outside Morocco, such as Spanish Sahara.
Unwilling to accept this, the Moroccan Army of Liberation waged war against the Spanish forces in the Ifni War of 1958. Today Morocco continues to object to Spanish possessions on mainland Africa and claims Ceuta and Melilla as integral parts of the country, considering them to be under foreign occupation, comparing their status to that of Gibraltar and they have probably got a good case.
Unsurprisingly, the government of Morocco has repeatedly called for Spain to transfer the sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla, along with uninhabited islets such as the islands of Alhuceima, Velez and the Perejil island.
Interestingly, although Spain is a member of NATO it allows frequent port facilities to the Russian navy in Cueta. Both Spanish and Russian officials have dismissed the criticism, saying that providing supplies and recreation to a foreign nation’s military is common practice. Ceuta benefits financially from the Russian visit. Money talks of course and it is claimed that Russian sailors and officers each spend an average of €450 in port restaurants and shops during their three-day leave, which translates into over €1 million annually.
In economics as well as politics hypocrisy has no boundaries!
As in the Anglo/Spanish dispute over Gibraltar the national governments and local populations of the disputed territories reject these claims by a large majority. The Spanish position makes a delicate and tenuous case that both Ceuta and Melilla are integral parts of the Spanish state and have been since the fifteenth century, many years prior to Morocco’s independence from Spain in 1956, whereas Gibraltar, being a British Overseas Territory, is not and never has been part of the United Kingdom.
Morocco disputes these claims and maintains that the Spanish presence in Ceuta and the other presidios on its coast is a remnant of the colonial past which should be ended.
However, the United Nations list of ‘Non-Self-Governing Territories’ do not consider those Spanish territories to be colonies, whereas it does declare Gibraltar to be a non-decolonised territory.
Confusing isn’t it?
Personally, I’d hand these territories over to Morocco and at the same time give Gibraltar back to Spain.