The American Legation of Tangier

La Legación Americana es un edficio y una institución emblemática de Tánger, principalmente de los siglos XIX y primera mitad del XX. Situada en plena medina de Tánger, en la actualidad está convertida en una especie de coqueto museo romántico de la ciudad y posee una formidable colección de mapas y planos antiguos de Tanger y su entorno de Marruecos y de Africa en general.

Si algo ha popularizado a la Legación Americana de Tánger es la pelicula que no obstante lleva el nombre de Casablanca, rodada en las alrededores del primer recinto diplomático norteamericano en tierra africana. Basada en la obra teatral de Murray Burnett y Joan Allison, Everybody Comes to Rick's, Casablanca narra una historia de amor en plena II guerra mundial que ha pasado y permanecerá en la historia del siglo gracias a la formidable actuación de Ingrid Bergman y Humphrey Bogart.

From 1821 until 1956, the U.S. diplomatic mission to Morocco was located in the old, walled Medina of Tangier. With the end of the French Protectorate in 1956, all embassies moved to the capital, Rabat, but the American Legation continued as a Consulate for another five years until a new consulate was built outside the old Medina. Thereafter, the American Legation building served as an Arabic language school for American diplomats (8 years) and a Peace Corps training center (3 years).

In 1976 the Old American Legation (as it is known in Tangier) stood empty and in a sad state of disrepair. Concerned about its fate, a group of American citizens established a public, non-profit organization. The Tangier American Legation Museum Society (TALMS). They obtained a lease from the Department of State to rent the Legation building. Since the American Bicentennial celebration in 1976 -- TALMS has been operating a museum and cultural center at this location with one American employee, the Director/Curator. The labor of restoration, preservation and activating the institution has been endless, but rewarding.

The Legation has been deeply involved in Moroccan-American relationships for over 150years. During the American Revolution so many American ships called at Tangier that the Continental Congress sought recognition from the "Emperor" of Morocco. This was accorded, in effect, in 1777, making Morocco the first country to recognize the fledgling American republic. Negotiation of a formal treaty began in 1783. It terminated in the signing in 1786 of the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the American signatories.

The 1786 treaty was renegotiated in 1835 under unusual circumstances. By this time James R. Leib occupied the Consulate at Tangier, for which President Washington had requested funds in 1795. Leib was instructed to go to Fez, where the Sultan was holding Court, to renegotiate the treaty of 1786. He refused-for reasons probably unique in American diplomatic history.

Early in the Civil War, Confederate ships called at Tangier. After this indiscretion was called to the attention of the Moroccan Government by the American Government, life at the Legation was occasionally disturbed by hostile crowds, protesting the U.S. Navy's interference with Moroccan trade. On several occasions it even became necessary for U.S. Marines to come ashore to move prisoners which had been taken from Confederate ships, through town to U.S. warships.

For a while following the Civil War the pace in Tangier dropped of considerably bringing isolation to the inhabitants. Mark Twain in "Innocents Abroad" described it then as "clear out of the world", the "completest exile."

Colonialism was waxing strongly in Africa, and France, Germany and Spain were casting covetous eyes upon Morocco. The United States, just beginning to make itself known as an international power, stood for an Open Door policy in Morocco. Samuel R. Gummere, our Minister in Tangier, successfully represented this point of view at the Algeciras conference, and it was incorporated into the Act of 1906. Following the elimination of German influence in Morocco, however, France and Spain divided the country into protectorates, while the area around Tangier became an international city. For some time after World War II, the United States did not participate in the Tangier Government. The Legation, however, exercised jurisdiction over American citizens and protégés. Ultimately, the United States die participate in the Tangier Government and continued to do so until restoration of Moroccan independence.

World War II ushered in a new phase of Legation activity. Because of strong German influence in the French protectorate and Spanish sympathy for the Axis, the Allied presence in Africa was isolated in Tangier and Gibraltar at the strategic entrance to the Mediterranean. The Legation became a testing ground for the newly-formed Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in establishing effective intelligence operations. It was also major focus of the preparation and execution of the North African landings (Operation Torch), prepared in part by Ambassador Murphy and carried out under General Eisenhower. This effort provided the backbone for the first U.S. military expedition in the west, doomed the Axis in Africa, and laid the groundwork for the landings in Italy and France.

The in 1910 Minister Maxwell Blake arrived in Tangier, where he was to remain for a quarter of a century. In the 1920's he obtained the gift of two pieces of property across the street from the original structure, one a former theater.

Excerpts from the
Smithsonian Magazine June, 1998

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