Spain justifies the occupation of Tangier

At the end of 1946 and after the victory of the allied forces in the II World War the Spanish Foreign Minister published a lengthy document explaining the historical reasons that led Spain to occupy Tangier and attach it to the Spanish Protectore over Morocco. What follows is part of the document.

Tangier under the Protective Action of Spain during the World War
June 1940 - October 1945
Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores
Madrid, 1946

THE causes of the extension of the Spanish Moroccan Protectorate to Tangier, in June 1940, and the events preceding it, must be attributed not only to the exceptional character of world circumstances, but also, and principally, to the inefficiency and defects of the Tangier Statute in relation to these circumstances. To bear out this statement, a brief examination is necessary of the events leading up to the Convention of 1923.

A) International treaties regarding Tangier.

Morocco had long been subjected to diverse and varied historical circumstances,which justified and prepared, in one way or another, the intervention of foreign Powers. Great difficulties encountered by the Sultan in making their authority felt and respected; the lack of recognition of their sovereignty in vast regions (Bled es-Siba)of the Empire; constant struggles and disorders and the resultant bloodshed; and,in this state of affairs,the defencelessness of foreign subjects and interests, were all factors that contributed to the absolute necessity of establishing some means protection.The object of this was to guarantee the general interests of the country and its inhabitants, and also of those nations who maintained traditional connections with Morocco. This necessity was all the more imperative in so far as Spain was concerned, by reason of her proximity to Morocco; through her possession of Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish sovereign cities, in Moorish territory; and because she suffered, more than any other nation, from the hostility and even aggressions of certain groups that had rebelled against the Maghzen.

The system of Capitulations, extended to Morocco by various successive treaties (1) was equivalent to a "de jure" limitation of the Sultan's sovereignty, which was already "de facto" more nominal than effective. As a consequence of this status, the subjects of many foreign Powers were withdrawn -even in the fiscal sphere- from the jurisdiction of the Maghzen. The rights of Protection, which extended foreign jurisdiction and the advantages of the Capitulations to the Sultan's own subjects, meant a new limitation to the latter's sovereignty; and, finally,the principle of free economic competition could also be considered as a weakening of Moorish sovereignty, in view of the fact that reciprocity was never stipulated.

Tangier, as a result of circumstances, and of the limitations we have mentioned (which affected it as being part of the territory of Morocco), was acquiring in the course of time its own peculiar configuration, all the more characteristic for being the seat and residence of the foreign diplomatic corps, which had special local attributes. From 1792 onwards this collective body assumed certain functions in sanitary affairs, confirmed in 1840 by a Shreefian Dahir. This was the origin of the "Sanitary Council”, seconded later by the Commission of Hygiene and Urban Communications. These institutions were rudimentary in structure and their efficiency was doubtful ; but their existence and activity -with the consent of the local authority- implied the principle of protective action.

During the 20th Century, various factors contributed to increase the gradual tendency toward a Protectorate.

Many circumstances conferred upon Spain a special position, based on unquestionable rights. Thus, among others, the proximity of her own territory; the size of the Spanish colony in most of the Moorish cities; the interests recognized in Treaties, and certain historical facts, such as the war of 1860.

The interest with which France and Great Britain followed Moorish affairs was revealed by their negotiations towards the end of the last century and at the beginning of the present, principally the Anglo-French Declaration of 1904, which was almost exclusively intended to secure and consolidate certain concessions and guarantees in connection with their international policy.

It is not possible, in this short account, to define in detail the position of other countries with reference to Morocco.

We should notice, however, the Algeciras period and the conclusions of that Conference, as a critical phase in the restatement of their demands. The Act of Algeciras, indeed, is equivalent to an admission of the principle of a Protectorate, the establishment of which, by consent of the Sultan, was to take place not many years later. According to the Act of Algeciras, the foreign Governments, through their representatives and by means of certain organs - such as the Contrôle de la Dette- could intervene in the collection of Customs duties, granting of public works and services, creation of a State Bank, concession of the Tobacco Monopoly, maintenance of public order, etc, etc.

The first years of the 20th Century mark the climax of a period of colonial expansion, which was not always based on historic rights or legitimate interests. This was the time of diplomatic struggle for spheres of influence and of the allotment of interests in the African continent. German aspirations made their appearance; principally as an obstacle in the way of French colonial objectives; when the moment came for settling the respective claims and establishing frontier-lines, those who were most exacting received compensation at the expense of the legitimate titIes and rights of third parties. The concessions made by the Government of the French Republic in order to persuade others to relinquish their interests in Morocco, were fulfilled in considerable measure by impairing Spanish rights that had been virtually recognized in previous Agreements and negotiations.

So far as the question of Tangier is concerned, it will be well to emphasize that the reference, contained in Article 7 of the Franco-Spanish Convention of November 27th 1912, to a special status to be established in Tangier, lays itself open to very varied interpretations.

The Franco-Spanish Treaty of 1902 –which was never in fact concluded — was to have established in its 4th Article that the two High Contracting Parties would not oppose the eventual "neutralization" of the city. The Franco-Spanish Agreement of October 3 1904, in its 9th Article, also provides that the city of Tangier "shall retain that "special character which the presence of the Diplomatic Corps and its municipal and sanitary institutions have given it”. These intentions were partly frustrated by the Algeciras status enforced two years later. The Franco- Moroccan Convention of March 30th 1912 prescribes, however -confirming and approving the previous tendency- that the city of Tangier shall maintain the special character it has been acknowledged to possess, and that this shall be determined by a municipal organization. With respect to the Franco-Spanish Convention of 27th November 1912, its 7th Article established that the city of Tangier and its surroundings would be provided with a "special regime" to be determined later.

There was nothing, then, to prevent the possibility that this "special regime" should consist of a municipal organization, endowed with a certain degree of autonomy resting on a few strictly enforced basic principles - free economic competition, rigorous demilitarization, absolute neutrality - which would be upheld in such a way that this city of the Strait should
Not lose its characteristics as being the seat of the Diplomatic Corps and possessing its own municipal and sanitary institutions; but that Tangier-and its surroundings should not be wrenched from the Spanish zone by which it was circumscribed, and which formed its natural and inseparable "hinterland” for geographic, political and economic reasons that are immediately obvious. Tangier, endowed with a special and -in a way autonomous status; Tangier, within the Spanish zone. This was the double formula that the interests of Tangier themselves seemed to demand; this was the solution that every Spanish Government, and public opinion in our country, constantly upheld, irrespective of political Regimes or ideas.

But in 1923, when the moment had come to apply the above-mentioned article 7 of the 1912 Agreement and to solve this apparently simple problem, a "sui generis" administrative system was enforced, which was both complicated and costly and which disavowed and infringed not only the rights of Spain but also the rightful demands of the native population which desired –with respect to Rabat- a degree of autonomy that should be similar and parallel to that of the Spanish Protectorate Zone.

B) The 1914 War.

A special regime for Tangier had been foreseen by the Conferences and Agreements of the beginning of the century, and more especially by the Protectorate Agreements of 1912; why then was it not established until 1923?

Evidently because this was prevented by the 1914 war. During 1912 and 1913, various Powers, among them Spain, held long conversations .on the establishment of a status for Tangier; the draft for a Statute had almost been completed, but the political tension of the first months of 1914, and, above all, the outbreak of hostilities in August of the same year, convinced every Nation involved of the fact that an armed conflict rendered absolutely impossible a regime founded on international collaboration. It was necessary to wait until the termination of hostilities, and until, three years after the signing of the Peace Treaty, the atmosphere of passion and rivalry created by the war was dispelled, for the resumed negotiations to bear fruit, in the Tangier Statute of 1923. It had thus been proved that war was incompatible with the working of the Statutory system; and this premise must necessarily be borne in mind in order to understand how forcibly the events of 1939 and 1940 were to affect the Statute of Tangier and entirely stultify its functioning.

C) The 1923 Statute. Its basic principles.

Alter lengthy negotiations between Great Britain, Franco and Spain, the Statute of Tangier was signed on the 18th December of 1923. As was then stated by the French delegate, M. de Beaumarchais, in the closing session, the Statute could not satisfy any of the contracting Powers.

The Spanish Government, in its desire to help in the solution of the problem -even a temporary one-. And in most generous spirit of collaboration, consented to sign it. While it has been in force, the Spanish Government has abided by it with extreme loyalty. Tangier has never lacked the support of the Spanish Zone, to which it inseparably attached by factors which are beyond discussion and which have governed the social and economic intercourse of their respective populations for centuries.

The Statute of 1923 gave recognition to principles in which other countries, especially Great Britain, were interested, including the neutrality of the Tangier Zone, free economic competition, and, lastly, the special jurisdiction (a Mixed Court) which replaced the system of Capitulations which was explicitly abrogated.

D) The revision of 1928.

In July 1928 some changes were introduced in the 1923 Statute, in order to acknowledge the claims that ltaly had been presenting for some time past. The negotiations that were then undertaken by England France, Italy and Spain, resulted in the Protocol signed in Paris on July the 25th. It recognised the special rights of Spain to exercise a strict control in all matters concerning the police of Tangier and maintenance of the public order, and conferred upon Spanish Army officers the command of the Gendarmerie and the direction of the Franco-Spanish Information Bureau.

E) Organization of the Statutory regime.

t is necessary to insist on the fact that the Tangier Statute, as resulting from the Paris Agreement of 1923, modified in 1928, embodies the failure of the municipalist thesis, and was therefore inconsistent with the aims and tendencies of the preceding agreements.

These are its principal bodies:

a) Mendoub.- He is the representative in Tangier of His Majesty the Sultan of Morocco, and holds all the traditional attributes in judicial and administrative affairs concerning the native population. He presides over the Legislative Assembly and may take part in its discussions. This system leaves three-quarters of the people of Tangier bereft of the desired "special regime", because, in the last resort, they depend on directions from Rabat, that is to say, from the French Protectorate Zone.

b) Legislative Assembly.- There is no place in this short account for an extensive criticism of the criteria by which the Paris Conference was guided in establishing the ratio of representation in the Legislative Assembly. There is definite inequality of treatment; the number of delegates controlled by France through the nominees of the Mendoub and of the Jewish Community, give that country a preponderant position which has been demonstrated on various occasions. The Spanish colony in Tangier is as numerous as all the remaining foreign colonies put together; its representation in the Assembly was reduced for arbitrary reasons which no representative system should admit. The Mendoub chooses six Modem subjects and three Jews who, added to the four "French members, form a predominant block.

There are, also three British Representatives, three Italian, one of the United States, one Belgian, one Portuguese, one Dutch, nominated by their respective Consulates, together with four Spanish representatives. The four Vice-Presidents, appointed by the Assembly from among its members, are: one Spanish, one French, one English, and one Italian. The Assembly is therefore composed of representatives of seven European countries, and of nine Moroccans (six Moslems and three Jews). The United States did not in fact appoint a representative.

c) Administration.- The Statute provides for one principal administrator, three assistant administrators, and two engineers. The principal administrator, contrary to the spirit of the Agreement, was uninterruptedly of French nationality. By an Exchange of Notes of 1935 between the Spanish and French Governments, the latter undertook to support the former in its desire that a Spanish subject should be appointed as administrator during the extension-period of the Statute. The three assistant administrators were: one of Spanish nationality, in
charge of public health and relief; one British, in charge of finances; and one Italian, charged with the supervision of justice. Of the two engineers, one was French (Public Works), and the other Spanish (Municipal Works).

d) Gendarmerie.- The Statute provided for a Gendarmerie, under the authority of the Administrator, to guarantee public security in the Tangier Zone. The command was first given to a Belgian captain, who never actually took over. Later, and in accordance with well-founded reasons adduced by the Madrid Government, it was given to a Major of the Spanish Army, with an adjutant of French nationality.

e) Judicial Services.- The Statute created the "Mixed Court" of Tangier, comprising magistrates of Belgian, British, French, Spanish, and – later- Italian nationalities. It is responsible for the administration of justice, in civil and criminal matters, over nationals of foreign powers. The Public Prosecution was entrusted to two Magistrates, one Spanish and the other French. The Mixed Court replaced the former Consular jurisdictions.

f) Committee of Control.- This is the fundamental body of the Statutory system, and it is its duty to ensure strict observance of the Statute and of its guiding principles. It possesses the right to veto any law or regulation voted by the Legislative Assembly. It consists of consuls de carrière of the Powers signatories of the Act of Algeciras: Belgium, France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The remaining Powers did not appoint representatives. This organ, through the extension of its powers and functions, became the axis of the whole

Such, in its broad outlines, is the basic organization of the Tangier Statute.

F) The War and the crisis of the Statutory regime.

The institutions of the Statute, in spite of the doubtful equilibrium of the system, were relatively efficient while peace was maintained.. Even then, however, their undue complexity and lack of adaptation to the needs of the Zone were patently revealed; t hey were evidently an obstacle in the way of local progress, the rhythm of which was notoriously slow. When war broke out, these institutions threatened to collapse completely. As Tangier did not possess an ample and appropriate representation, which might have counterbalanced the clash of conflicting interests, the special regime was defenceless. Being based on the cooperation of seven nations, it was inevitable that it should suffer from the events of 1939 and their outcome in the difficult days of the summer of 1940. By June of this year, the war had so affected the Tangier Statute as to render its machinery entirely useless.

It must remembered that the invasion and occupation of Belgium and Holland had taken place in May; that the Italian declaration of war on France and Great Britain -on the 10th of June- was followed, a few days later, by hostile operations on the Franco-italian frontier; and that on the 10th, 11th, and 12th of the same month the French Government had begun to consider the possibility of an armistice.

The situation, at that time, of the principal Tangier departments may thus be summarised: -consequently upon the Armistice, the Mendoub, as a delegate authority of His Majesty the Sultan, was obliged to adopt a position similar to the latter's.

It is known that a German armistice commission was established in French Morocco, which, by effectively controlling certain aspects 'of the administration of that Zone, intervened in the Protection which France exercised on behalf of His Majesty the Sultan. The Legislative Assembly and the Administration of Tangier could not function under the conflicting passions of the subjects of hostile nations. But this situation became gravest and most critical in the Committee of Control, which, as has been said, was the fundamental organ of the Statutory regime. The diplomatic and representative character of its members, who depended directly on their respective Governments, rendered their cooperation impossible. Belgium and Holland were occupied, with their local authorities under German control; France too was occupied and on the eve of the armistice signed on the 22nd of June, expecting, at best, a Tangier dependent of the Vichy Government; Great Britain and Italy were at enmity, with radically opposed political and strategic interests, which could not be miraculously reconciled by their respective delegates in Tangier. Portugal and Spain alone were outside the struggle. Of these, Spain only had signed the Statutory Convention of 1923 and 1928. It therefore became Spain's responsibility to ensure that the spirit of those Treaties should be observed; specially, the principle of neutrality which they solemnly enjoined.

In the midst of the upheaval caused by the war, the regime of 1923-1928 was, in fact, impotent. Spain was neutral, she was a signatory of the Statute agreements; she had a large colony in Tangier (about 20,000 persons); she was Protector of a zone of the Moroccan Empire in which a neutral regime was also enforced. With all this in view, and by reason of her exceptional titles in affairs concerning Morocco, she could do no less than further the defence and safeguard of those interests, both Moroccan and foreign, which the Statutory regime was no longer capable of defending. She therefore had recourse to the measure which, at that difficult moment, seemed most efficient and appropriate, in the juridical and political spheres: to extend to the territory of Tangier the Protection which Spain exercises over the Spanish Moroccan Zone. In other words, to administer Tangier and its Zone under the colours and authority of His Imperial Highness the, Caliph of the Spanish Zone of Morocco.

G) Extension to Tangier of the Administration of the Spanish Moroccan Protectorate.

The causes of the decision to extend to Tangier the administration of the Spanish Zone may therefore be summed up in the following points:

a) Total inadequacy and inefficiency of the fundamental organs of the Tangier Statute of 1923-1928, by reason of events connected with the war.

b) The obligation to maintain the neutrality of Tangier, undertaken by Spain: Spain's neutrality having been declared to extend to her Protectorate Zone in Morocco, Tangier was in fact benefiting from the neutrality of the protecting nation.

c) Imminent danger of military operations by the axis against Tangier. Information received by the Spanish Government revealed this danger, the character of which was clear to the General Staffs of the Allied Forces, as Tangier's position in the Strait made it at that time of exceptional military value.

Sir Samuel Hoare, in his book "Ambassador on Special Mission", explicitly corroborates this point in the following passage: "When Italy declared war on the Allies on June 10th, there was a plausible reason for thinking that Mussolini might attempt to occupy the zone, the more so as there were several thousand Italian subjects, mostly Fascists, settled within it." This danger remained latent with respect to the North African coast during 1941-1942.

President Roosevelt underlined it in his letter to General Franco of November 8th 1942: "We have accurate information to the effect that Germany and Italy intend at an early date to occupy with military force French North Africa." He ratified the same in a letter of the same date to Marshal Pétain: "Aujourd'hui, leurs yeux pleins de convoitise tournés vers cet Empire que la France a édifié au prix de tant de labeur, l'Allemagne et l'Italie se proposent d'envahir et d'occuper l'Afrique française du Nord, afin de pouvoir exécuter leurs plans de domination et de conquête de la totalité du continent..." (2).

It would be superfluous to describe the military events on the North-African scene during those years. They clearly proved "how well-justified had been the fear of military action such as that which threatened Tangier at the moment of French collapse. Spain, by impeding the possibility of such attacks and guaranteeing Tangiers's neutrality in all events, rendered the Allied cause a notable service at a time when Great Britain faced her enemy alone and Gibraltar was seriously threatened.

H) Replacement of the Statutory Administration.-

On June 14th 1940 Spain entrusted to the military forces of the Caliph the above-mentioned security occupation. It is important to emphasize — because this fact has been intentionally concealed— that the occupying forces were not Spanish but those of His Imperial Highness the Caliph. This measure was notified by the Spanish government and the Spanish High Commissioner in Morocco to the diplomatic representatives of the Powers which were principally interested, and also; on the same day, to the members of the Committee of Control in Tangier. Even though certain Powers expressed some reserve in principle, at no time did the new organs cease to cooperate with the foreign representatives. On December 31st 1940, Memoranda were exchanged between Great Britain and Spain, in which there were certain accommodations that guaranteed British interests especially.

Many testimonies could be presented to prove the loyalty constantly observed by the authorities of the Protective Administration in defense of the neutrality of Tangier and in the promotion of every measure that might contribute to the peace and welfare of its population. The responsible officials were not merely content to observe a correct attitude; they became keenly engaged in the satisfaction of every necessity of the civil-life of Tangier. It is true that the provisional character of the situation could not favour an ample legislation. But no person in good faith can deny the constant concern of the administration in solving the complicated day-to-day problems, or the disinterested generosity of its solutions. This was especially notable in an atmosphere exceptionally delicate for the following reasons: the presence of large colonies of citizens of belligerent Powers; an important increase in population, by reason of the hospitality accorded to thousands of Jewish refugees from Central Europe and the difficulties of transport and food-supplies, which were covered thanks to Spanish sacrifices. All the measures adopted not only did not contradict the essential purpose of the Statute, but tended to ensure its two principal objectives: the guarantee of public order, and the maintenance of neutrality. The Spanish-Caliphian administration was able to surmount these difficulties successfully, and was at every moment assisted and encouraged by the manifest support of the native population.

In the juridical sphere, the authorities also enforced those indispensable measures needed to supplement — on a provisional basis — the incapacity of the international organs. The law of November 23rd 1940 did no more than extend to the Tangier Zone — for the latter's interest and benefit - the Protection exercised by Spain in her own Moroccan Zone. It was inspired, not only by the unavoidable necessity of ensuring, in the international sphere, the order and neutrality that were threatened, but also the expediency of unifying the administrative regulations of the Zone of Tangier and the Spanish Protectorate.

The application of the above-mentioned law during the vicissitudes of the World conflict, is the best proof of the upright spirit by which the Spanish Government was guided in this matter.
The organisation of the Mixed Court was left intact, and the Codes of Tangier were always respected and constantly applied; these facts were for all foreigners the most eloquent proof that the Court could and would function with the greatest dignity and independence.

The Spanish Government considers it opportune to make known some of the aspects of the Tangier administration in 1940 and the years following, with the conviction that every unbiased reader will be favourably impressed by its achievements. The Tangier Moroccans — the most closely-affected parity — have expressed their gratitude to His Imperial Highness the Caliph and to Spain.


(1) Moroccan treaties with Spain, 1767, 1799 and 1860; with France, 1767 and 1824; with England, 1856; with the United States, 1836, etc, etc.

(2) As the English test of this message is not immediately accesible, we give the French version which appears in "Chronologie du Conflit-Mondial", Société d'éditions françaises et internationales, Paris, 1945.

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