“Ceuta cannot put up with this [economic] suffocation,” said Ceuta’s government spokesperson, calling for an innovative plan to secure the future of the city.
Essaouira – The autonomous government of Ceuta has called a meeting on Monday, January 17, with the government of Melilla to come up with an action plan to “respond energetically” to the “pressure” Morocco is putting on the two enclaves to “suffocate their economies,” according to a statement from the spokesperson for the government of Ceuta, Alberto Gaitan.
The spokesperson said the two governments need to come up with an ambitious independent economic program that “does not depend on Morocco.”
We need to “guarantee a solid future for our city,” Gaitan added. He remarked that the two enclaves must act, despite a lack of action from Madrid.
“Spain and Ceuta must not go on their knees to Morocco and need to find an alternative exit route from this situation,” he warned.
“It is not just about fishing, this about much much more,” the spokesperson outlined. He cited irregular immigration, particularly involving Moroccan minors, as key factors in the critical condition of the enclave’s economy.
The upcoming meeting between the two enclaves in Malaga comes after Morocco’s government-imposed restrictions and the permanent closure of the borders that hundreds of women “mules” use to carry goods in and out of the Spanish enclave to sell.
Rabat suspended access to the Ceuta border Tarajal II gate on October 9 and closed the Melilla crossing border over 19 months ago when Morocco could no longer turn a blind eye to the detrimental effects of the practice on its economy.
In February 2019, the director-general of the Moroccan Administration of Customs and Indirect Taxation, Nabyl Lakhdar, estimated the value of the products entering Morocco through the Ceuta border between MAD 6 billion and MAD 8 billion per year (between €550 million and €730 million).
Lakhdar emphasized that Morocco was forced to turn to “radical” solution to “permanently” put an end to contraband border crossings with Melilla and Ceuta.”
While the move from Morocco did strangle the economies of Ceuta and Melilla, Rabat’s move came only in defense of its own economy.
A precarious dynamic
The spokesperson’s somewhat bellicose comments on Morocco are not the first of their kind. The governments of Ceuta and Melilla have been increasingly hostile towards Rabat, reflecting the far-right ideology of Ceuta’s president, Juan Vivas who belongs to the Vox Party.
In January, Vivas spoke out against Rabat’s decision to clamp down on smuggling, calling it an attempt to “strangle and isolate” the two cities.
He added that the citizens of Ceuta “have been living in Spain for years, whatever it takes and whatever the price,” weaponizing nationalist rhetoric to mobilize public opinion against Morocco.
For the past 15 years, the relationship between Spain and Morocco has been dominated by strong bilateral relations and collaboration in a range of sectors, however, this has not always been the case.
Prior to 2004, the status of Ceuta and Melilla played a key part in Rabat-Madrid dynamics, particularly during the reign of Hassan II.
While Morocco and Spain continue to cooperate in the fields of immigration control, counterterrorism, and efforts to curb international drug trafficking, the increased presence of the far-right Vox party within the Spanish government threatens to destabilize the solid ties between the two countries.
It remains to be seen whether Vivas’ hostile rhetoric and Ceuta’s calls for strong action will lead to increased tension between Morocco and the enclave, or whether the constant, tempered influence of Madrid can calm the waters and lead to the strengthening of both Ceuta’s economy and Morocco’s.