"Mother died last night," shouted Juan Bautista to his daughter who stood only 50 yards away behind the border gates of blockaded Gibraltar.
Since the British crown colony fortress was shut off by Spain in 1969, the only way Bautista could communicate quickly with his daughter, Asuncion, who is married to a Gibraltarian and lives on the rock, is by shouting across the border.
Indeed, screaming news of deaths, births, marriages and trival demands for goods not available in Spain is the only way that Spaniards and Gibraltarians can communicate in a hurry.
When the late diatator Francisco Franco closed the border with Gibraltar as part of his campaign to recover the historic two-and-a-quarter mile bastion that England seized from Spain in 1704, he not only stopped all direct land and sea transport but he cut off direct telephone telex and cable communication.
The blockade is unpopular among the 500,000 Spaniards who live and work in the poor Campo de Gibraltar Andalusian area adjoining the rock. Many unemployed Spanish workers in the region - which voted Socialist in the June parliamentary elections - wants it ended.
"The frontier must be opened both ways," said Andres Martin, 30, a jobless construction worker, "I want Gibraltar to be Spanish, but I want a job, too. Before the frontier was closed, there was life in La Linea and in nearby towns like San Roque, Algeciras and other Pueblos."
Even a Spanish guard on duty at the border, part of which is protected by barbed-wire remarked. "The closing is political. It's inhuman. It affects the lives of people. I'm here to enforce it but it makes no sense."
Before the borders was closed, a million tourists a year, including thousands of Spaniards went in and out of Gibraltar, mostly by car. Spaniards provided most of the water and food for the rock, which is so barren that a part from a few trees, palms and gardens, little grows there. Now there is no tourism and most of the food and water comes from Morocco. So does a good part of the labor force.
With the death of Franco and Spain's attempts to become a fulfledged democracy and Common Market member. Gibraltarians hoped that Madrid would take steps to end the colony's isolation and perhaps try to win support among a large number of Gibraltarians who consider themselves culturally linked to Spain.
Neither King Juan Carlos nor Premier Adolfo Suarez have made any gestures toward Gibraltar, however, other than to restore telephone and telex communications during the Christmas holidays.
Life in Gibraltar is entirely dominated by its uncertain future. Whether to remain "British," become "independent" or be somehow linked to Spain is the main topic of conversation in bars, labor union headquarters and main street shops.
Back in 1967, Britain responded to demands for Gibraltar's decolonization with a referendum giving Gibraltarians, who are British subjects, a choice whether to "pass under Spainsh sovereignty" or "voluntarily to retain their link with Britain," with Britain retaining its "present responsibilities."
Out of 12,762 qualified voters 12,138 cast ballots for retaining ties with Britain. Only 44 voted for Spanish sovereignty. But Spain was different 10 years ago. It was a distatorship.
The Spanish government's position appears to be that the restrictions are its only negotiating lever with the United Kingdom and with the 19,351 Ginbraltarians on the rock. The Gibraltarians - or Llanitos, as they are called in Spanish - are a mixed lot of descendents of Genoese, Maltese, Sephardic Jews and Spaniards.
A Spanish Foreign Office spokesman remarked that if Spain ends the blockade, the "Gilbraltarians will have no reason to negotiate. Why should they if they get what they want?"
During a visit to Madrid last month, British Foreign Secretary David Owen made it clear to Spain - and to Gibraltarians - that there would be no negotiations over Gibraltar's future unless the blockade was lifted.
Foreign Minister Marcelino Oreja told the Spanish Parliament in a recent foreign policy review that Spain can negotiate with London on Gibraltar's return "respecting the rights of the Gibraltarians." Communist Party leader Santiago Carillo took up the Gibraltar issue with British Labor Party leaders when he attended a recent convention in Brighton, England.
Gibraltarians have been pleased with Owen's comments, but many fear that the British sun may soon set on the Rock, which has been Britain's western Mediterranean bastion for more than two centuries. The dead of the battle of Trafalgar are buried there. The Rock, which dominates the 20-mile wide Gibraltar Straits, has a tunnel where Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower met in World War II.
Gibraltar today is a NATO base with some 5,000 British servicemen and dependents. Navy officers in whites can be seen walking down from narrow streets past Soviet sailors from a training ship shopping for radios. Veiled Moroccan women come in and out of food stores laden with canned goods.
Business had gone down in the past eight years, but Gibraltar, with British economic aid, is surviving.The basic problem, however, is not economic but political.
Charles Isola, president of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, believes that an eventual arrangement can be worked out with Madrid.
"The Gibraltarian treasures his democratic institutions," he said in a recent interview, "which is hard for a Spaniard to understand. But now the Gibraltarian must understand that if Spain becomes a true democracy many objections to an accord with Spain will have disappeared."
Joseph Triay, an attorney, admits that he is quietly working for "autonemy" so that Gibraltar can be a "pointed union between Spain, Britain and Africa." He believes that the blockade has been good "because it has raised the consciousness of the Gibraltarian and made us seek an identity."
The question of who they are and what they are is important to the Gibraltarians. Most of them are totally fluent in Spanish and English and can switch from one language to another with astonishing facility.
Yet the average Gibraltarian considers himself British. Ernesto Lima, 57, a retired police sergeant, said, "We have lived happily under the British flag. Why should we change? What fault is it of ours what happened 200 years ago?" CAPTION: Map, no caption, by [WORD ILLEGIBLE] - The Washington Post