According to new information released, the well-publicized spat between Spain and the United Kingdom over Gibraltar is not the only bilateral territorial dispute Madrid has raised this summer. Spain secretly filed a proposal with the United Nations in early July to have Portugal's southernmost region. Spain Disputes Portugal Islands, the Savage Island, deemed as rocks rather than an island. Madrid's demand aims to reduce Portugal's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which is now the biggest in Europe, by allowing Spanish boats from the Canary Islands to go closer to Madeira.
The Savage Island, which is just 2.73 square kilometers or 273 hectares in size but rises to a height of 165 meters, is at the center of an international issue that Madrid has chosen to take to the highest international level and seek a UN decision.
Spain and Portugal on a two-dimensional map with orange and green colors
The islands are situated between Madeira and the Canary Islands, enabling Portugal's territorial seas to approach the Spanish territory within 40 nautical miles. In terms of distance, the Savage Islands are much closer to the Canaries than they are to Madeira.
Unlike the Canary Islands, which were colonized by the Spanish, these islands have been a Portuguese possession since 1438, the year a human being first set foot on Madeira. They are only used by a small group of wardens from the Madeira Nature Park. Even though the Portuguese navy has arrested a number of Spanish fishing boats for breaking territorial boundaries over the years.
However, Spain and its Canary Island fishermen are certain that this little group of islands cannot be classified as anything else than rocks. Even though Madrid says the sovereignty of the Savage Islands is not in question, classifying them as rocks would effectively take away Portugal's more than 700-year history of being a country there.
The emergence of Spain's attempts to change the designation of the Savage Islands prompted Portugal to reply by drafting a UN declaration contesting the claims submitted across the border. Foreign Minister Rui Machete refused to comment on the document's contents but claimed it reaffirms Portugal's sovereignty over the area.
"This is not a bilateral dialogue between two nations, but rather an interpretation that each side is making," Minister Machete remarked, referring to a surge in divisive nationalism in the Iberian Peninsula. While specifics of Madrid's measures did not surface until over two months after their UN proposal to restrict Portuguese territorial seas was submitted, President Cavaco Silva conducted a surprise visit to the islands barely two weeks after Spain began this step.
When he slept aboard the Vasco da Gama frigate, the President became the first Portuguese head of state to spend the night in the area. Cavaco Silva's visit was criticized at the time because it occurred during a period in which Portugal's coalition government was rocked by a series of resignations, but observers this week suggested that the visit was not merely a coincidence, given diplomatic measures taken by Spain's UN representatives in New York.
The Geographical Institute of the Portuguese Defense Forces (IGE) has consistently refused to establish the geographical line between Portugal and Spain where this town is located, creating a big blank along the border that separates the two nations.
The Defense Force's geographical exclusion is explained by the fact that Olivença is a Portuguese area held by the Spanish, and no lines will be set until Portugal wins the fight that the Vienna Treaty said it had won in 1817. After a 16-year occupation, Spain's armies, with the help of Napoleon, were vanquished.
The Badajoz Treaty, signed in 1801, saw Portugal relinquish Olivença to Spanish and Napoleonic armies, bringing an end to more than 500 years of Portuguese dominance since the city's establishment in 1297. The United Nations is only expected to rule on the Savage Islands in 2015. This leaves the Olivença question unanswered.
The Treaty of Saragossa (April 22, 1529), signed by John III of Portugal and Charles V of Spain, ultimately put an end to the Moluccas conflict. It said that a boundary line should be set up 297.5 leagues east of the Moluccas, which were known as Portuguese.
In 1581, after Spain won the War of Portuguese Succession, Philip of Spain was named king. This marked the start of a personal union between the two countries called the Iberian Union, which saw the Portuguese Empire fall apart during the Union.
In this article about Spain disputes Portugal islands, the Savage Islands aren't the only region that Portugal and Spain are fighting for. When news of Columbus' findings reached Europe, a furious feud between Spain and Portugal erupted. The Spanish claim to the Caribbean islands was rejected by Portugal. Portugal considered them to be a part of the Azores, which they claimed as their own. Olivença, which is south of Elvas in the Alentejo and across the border in Badajoz, has been at the center of a long-running feud.