''The decision to keep the gates to Gibraltar closed is a catastrophe,'' lamented the Socialist mayor of the Spanish border town of La Linea, next to Gibraltar.
Once again, the citizens of La Linea are disillusioned and angry with the government's decision to delay indefinitely negotiations with Britain over the future of Gibraltar.
The statement was announced June 21 in a joint Spanish-British communique issued in Luxembourg, where Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Pedro Perez Llorca was negotiating terms of Spain's eventual European Community membership.
Negotiations originally scheduled for April 20 were canceled because of the Falklands war. They had been expected to begin again June 25 with the opening of the gates.
Mr. Perez Llorca stated in Luxembourg that Britain ''is going through an emotional period because of the Malvinas (Falklands) conflict which makes a positive beginning for negotiations impossible.'' He added, ''it's the worst possible moment to negotiate.''
Britain's Foreign Secretary Francis Pym expressed ''profound disillusion'' and considered ''the internal Spanish political situation'' the cause behind the delay.
The opposition Socialist Workers' Party issued a brief communique that ''lamented that the inhabitants next to the rock have to suffer the consequences.'' They demanded a better explanation for not opening the gates closed unilaterally by Francisco Franco 13 years ago and a formal appearance of Perez Llorca in parliament. However, Juan Carmona, the Socialist mayor of La Linea went further and described the situation of his town as ''desolate and irreversible,'' and forecasted ''our ruin is imminent.''
La Linea had placed high hopes on a flood of visitors with the opening of the gates to Gibraltar to liven up the stagnant local economy. Before the first date of April 20, local businesses had invested $10 million to $15 million in expectation of an estimated 5,000 daily tourists en route to the rock who would drop some $500,000 in La Linea.
''Beginning with the city hall and ending with the last businessman,'' an unhappy Carmona regretted, ''all of us in La Linea are in debt . . . and the delay is another heavy blow.'' In addition to La Linea, other nearby towns had been dreaming of a virtual new ''Hong Kong'' in Gibraltar to alleviate the area's chronically high unemployment.