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A Little Rock 'n' Roil

July 17, 2002

This just in: Morocco has invaded Europe. Of all this planet's potential conflicts, Morocco snatching a piece of Spain was not widely expected. But in recent days a crack team of 11 armed Moroccans with tents and a flag claimed a rocklet in the Strait of Gibraltar. Spain says it's Spanish. Que si! Que no!

Spain calls the stadium-size outcropping Isla de Perejil, which means Parsley Island, and Morocco calls it Leila, which means Leila.

Spain hadn't done much with the rock. Nonetheless, backed by the European Union, it dispatched gunboats. Morocco, backed by the Arab League, says it needs the island to combat terrorism and illegal immigration. Now, except for lizards, insects and, of course, wild parsley and a few armed Moroccans, Parsley Island is uninhabited. So its prominence as a target for terrorists or fleeing masses had been overlooked.

The world is spotted with such minor geographic and political anomalies, often military prizes, outposts and fueling stations from long-ago conflicts and their ensuing treaties. The United States got Guam from Spain and kept it; recall "Guam-based B-52s" from Vietnam War reports? Britain and Portugal ceded Hong Kong and Macao back to China. France still owns St. Pierre and Miquelon just off Canada's Newfoundland. And, of course, right by Spain there's a large Mediterranean rock called Gibraltar, which is not owned by Prudential Insurance and has as much to do with its British owners geographically as salsa. These places make intriguing travel pieces for Sunday newspapers and those E! Entertainment segments--"Wild on Parsley Island!"

This thankfully nonviolent face-off also provides a summer diversion to tide us over till next month's spate of shark-attack stories.

Spain and Morocco have long-standing territorial grudges but had made real progress talking, especially recently as the population of Moroccan immigrant workers in Spain reached a quarter-million. Maybe former President Carter needs a break from not solving the troubles of other nations to squeeze in some down-home mediation over Leila-Parsley Island. If Morocco and Spain are lucky, Carter will get there before Al Sharpton.

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