Ceuta waits for the border to open 19 months later with its economic model in the air


Ceuta does not know whether to deduct in days, weeks or months what remains for the Tarajal border to be reopened. On March 13, 2020, in the middle of the outbreak of the pandemic, the passage was closed and with it part of the economic pulse and social relations of an autonomous city, already then heavily punished after a year of strangulation by the Moroccan authorities. In 2018, the Alawite Kingdom began to end the subsistence economy, porting, “smuggling” from its point of view, which kept thousands of families in its territory at the cost of acting as pack mules of all kinds of products that from Ceuta they avoided paying taxes. All this traffic turned the wheel of the economy, leaving huge tax benefits for the regional administration, a trail of continuous conflicts and not a few deaths, in the surroundings of the pass.

The city does not know when vehicle and foot traffic will be restored across the border. Also how, although the rapprochement of positions between the two states seems to have dissolved the fears that it will never recover, an ideal for the extreme right. The Government Delegation, which is making slow progress in the installation of systems that facilitate the identification of all those who cross it to end the chaos that occurred every day in Tarajal, intends that in the new era only those who have something enter Ceuta what to do inside: workers with papers, tourists with money or relatives of mackerel.

Everyone agrees that nothing will ever be what it was, less after the avalanche of May, when the neighboring country consented, if not encouraged, the irregular entry of 12,000 subjects into Spanish territory, including some 2,000 minors alone. That event has exacerbated the atavistic fear of Rabat’s sovereign ambitions: “It was a before and after and has to be taken as such,” sources from the local Executive of Juan Vivas (PP) warn elDiario.es at the prospect that “If everything were to be the same again, any day Morocco could close its border again and block the 20,000 or 30,000 people who entered the city every day.”



“I hope that the border will be reopened in a different way: in safe and well-functioning conditions and with the necessary means incorporated,” Vivas wishes from the presidency, which has been renouncing the positions of maximum that it raised with the complicity of the central government in the days of greatest tension with the neighboring country: end the exceptionality included in Schengen and require a visa from all Moroccans to enter the city.

In 2020, the local administration lost almost 50% of the revenue it collected through its own main financing instrument, the IPSI, the indirect tax that replaces the VAT at reduced rates that was largely nourished by “atypical trade” towards the other side of the border and made some cheap supermarkets in the city the highest billing in Europe.



This growth model supported by Morocco and the enormous flow of people who entered and left the city every day with the only effective control of its authorities is considered dead and buried. With 50% of the local workforce linked to the public sector, the vast majority with stable contracts and good salaries, the city is torn between opting for the path of autarky led by the extreme right (at the risk of becoming a “Giant Alhucemas Rock”, according to the metaphor of the localista Juan Luis Aróstegui) and the commitment to establish itself on the back of its “unbeatable” tax cuts in a “digital pole” that attracts companies fleeing territories such as Gibraltar or Malta.

That is what the PP is playing at, which has been governing a city for 20 years where the closure of the border has revolutionized its economic and social activity in a dangerous drift towards ever greater social struggle. Its leaders trust that the first ‘call-center’ that is implanted will be an irrefutable example to generate employment of average qualification capable of absorbing endogenous unemployment. “A window of opportunity has been presented to the extremes with the closure of the border to turn the ‘anti-Morocco’ discourse shared by the entire Assembly into Islamophobia, or in the reaction against the civil death of the Spanish Muslim population,” he laments the spokesman for his Parliamentary Group in the Assembly, Carlos Rontomé.

Ceuta has had to get used to during the 19 months that – they are celebrated this Wednesday – the border is closed, to dispense with the fish and economic fruit that it received daily together with thousands of domestic workers and a huge volume of irregular labor ( mostly) and equally cheap from the neighboring country. Morocco also became the main source of tourists of medium and high purchasing power for a city ‘isolated’ from the peninsula due to the prohibitive prices of transport by boat (about 65 euros round trip per person) and helicopter (at least 120 with Algeciras, more than 300 to Malaga). The local government has now started to cover its fees by 50% in a desperate attempt to attract visitors.



During this long year and a half of terrestrial isolation, the city has consolidated the establishment of 26 technology companies, almost all of them online gambling, which employ, according to the latest balance of the regional Executive, 275 workers, more than ever employed regulate the shipment to Morocco. From this conglomerate and its connections with foreign investment funds, the project of ‘El Coloso de Ceuta’ has emerged, a 200-meter-high tower with a budget of 70 million euros that its promoters defend elDiario.es as a key to “transform the city “in the image and likeness of Singapore or Dubai and” revolutionize your life.

For a long time, companies and citizens only pay 12.5% ​​of Companies in Ceuta (7.5% the first two years of implementation), only 11.8% contribute to Social Security, they enjoy 60% of Rebate in personal income tax and they do not pay VAT, but an IPSI at maximum rates of 10% that the local employer has just asked to reduce to 0.5%. Despite this, its attractiveness has been confined almost uniquely and very recently to the technology sector, in which all hopes are placed for a city without available land, natural resources or skilled labor and whose port, the other supposed The most feasible development vein, has seen its ordinary income plummet from the suppression of Operation Paso del Estrecho for two consecutive summers.

Vox believes that the border should remain closed “sine die” and the city, protected by an “impassable wall”. Paradoxically, the government delegate in Ceuta, the socialist Salvadora Mateos, has been his greatest ally: “With the border closed, people live very well here,” he defended in early August. At the extreme end of the far-right ideological spectrum, Mohamed Mustafa, the new leader of the left-wing localism whose hallmarks are “the Spanishness and interculturality” of Ceuta, assures: “We must accept the contradiction of being condemned to be friends of ours.” enemy ‘clearly distinguishing between the Executive of Morocco, which will not relent in its efforts to vindicate our sovereignty, and its population. ” Especially if one takes into account that half of the local Spanish neighborhood of Arab-Muslim culture maintains with the other side of the border thousands of broken family ties since the spring of 2020.



From Mohamed’s point of view, “closing the border by erecting a physical or legal wall would mean, apart from other philosophical and principled considerations, defining Ceuta as an isolated enclave condemned to artificially subsist on public money, a kind of ‘colony ‘sustained through thick and thin “. For this reason it claims “to regulate the cross-border space through a Good Neighbor Treaty negotiated by the Spanish Government and the European institutions with Rabat to turn it into an area of ​​true shared prosperity”.

In June, with the ashes of the migratory avalanche still hot, the Executive of Pedro Sánchez announced the urgent elaboration of a Strategic Plan for Ceuta that supposedly would gather the spirit of “more Spain and more Europe” that inspired the agreement by the Autonomous Assembly to end of 2020 “without renouncing that the prosperity of the city can be linked to that of the nearest Moroccan territory, the Wilaya of Tetouan, as it is wanted to do with Gibraltar and its surroundings”. Nothing concrete is known about its development yet.

“The Ministry of Territorial Policy is working on an analysis of the situation of the General Administration of the State in the autonomous cities that serves as a basis for identifying possible options and proposals for the future,” the central government replied to the senators of the PP of Ceuta and Melilla, where the Ministry of Education and Health maintain direct competences with the worst failure and dropout rates in the country and great difficulties in establishing medical and nursing staff.

Added to these hindrances are rates of the population living in or at risk of poverty close to 50%, whose vulnerability has worsened after the closure of the border, the highest unemployment rate in the country (especially youth, above 70%) and large pockets of substandard housing. In government offices, the fall in the price of houses is also worrying, an unprecedented phenomenon in Ceuta, registered after the May crisis, which is interpreted as proof that fear of the future has permeated among those who have opted for liquidation and closure before the uncertainty. “Money is scary and that is our big problem from the point of view of those who live here and those who see us from the peninsula,” warn local sociologists.

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