26 years waiting in Cedillo for a bridge that connects Spain and Portugal
Juan Manuel Rodriguez (61) paddles from the shore of Cedillo (Spain) to that of Montalvão (Portugal) together with the mayor of the municipality of Cáceres, Antonio González.Roberto Palomo

The municipality of Cedillo (Cáceres, 428 inhabitants) has been waiting for 26 years for a bridge that connects Spain with Portugal. “We are absurdly separated sister peoples, this torpedoes commercial and personal relations”, sums up the socialist mayor Antonio González Riscao, who has been ruling since 1987, in reference to his municipality and that of Montalvão, just 13 kilometers away in a straight line, although 120 kilometers away by car. They have been visited by Carlos Rebelo, 52 years old and originally from the Portuguese town, thus assuming those “kilometers” to receive the vaccine and see his Spanish friends. Another option is to get on the “patera boat”, led by Juan Manuel Rodrigues, a 61-year-old Portuguese who moved to Cedillo when he married Isabel Piris, from Cáceres, 62, with whom he has a daughter. Both regret the loss of contact with his family and place their hope in 2022: last April, the Portuguese Government confirmed that it will finance with European funds the construction, which will unite both countries next year.

In an impressive mountainous environment, where several tributaries meet, is the Cedillo reservoir, a colossal concrete bridge managed by the Iberdrola company that acts as a stopper between the two countries. The separation was accentuated in 1995 and coincided with the entry into force of the Schengen agreement, which allows the free movement of people and goods within the European Union. In that year, Iberdrola decided for security reasons that they would no longer be able to cross the 300 meters of track that runs through the hydroelectric plant and connects both sides. The company recalls that it is a private road and, therefore, it is not designed as a public road due to the dangerous machinery. “When everything opened, here it closed …”, sighs resigned the mayor of the town.

The vice president of the Nissa Council Chamber, Jose Leandro (53), shaking hands with Antonio Gonzalez, Mayor of Cedillo
The vice president of the Nissa Council Chamber, Jose Leandro (53), shaking hands with Antonio Gonzalez, Mayor of CedilloRoberto Palomo

Cedillo shares history, traditions, culture and even relationships and marriages with peoples and peoples on the other side of the Tagus and Sever rivers. Marina Sánchez and Benvinto Carapeto, from Extremadura and Portuguese, both 32 years old, get married in June: “We met because he is from Castelo de Vide (Portugal) and works in Dehesa (Cáceres), so he was resting in Cedillo”. The two have been hearing about the bridge since childhood, since their parents suffered separation.

Sánchez remembers his grandmother María de Grassa, a Portuguese woman, who traveled the necessary kilometers “by foot”. “We have never had a bridge, but before the dam, at least the river Sever could be circumvented,” explains the young woman. With the inauguration of the reservoir by the Franco dictator regime in 1974, this communication route was cut off by artificially raising the water channel. Currently, the dam is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 am to 10 pm, when a security guard hired by the Cedillo City Council opens the gates and allows vehicles to pass.

Quique Piris (38) dispatching cold cuts at the Cedillo market.
Quique Piris (38) dispatching cold cuts at the Cedillo market.Roberto Palomo

“It makes no sense for a private company to manage a public infrastructure,” says the mayor. “It’s a patch, it doesn’t solve the root of the problem,” adds 38-year-old butcher Quike Piris, who has lived in Cedillo all his life and does “juggle, like everyone else” to get his business going. “There could be more clients with the border open during the week,” he criticizes while dispatching clients like the 60-year-old Angelica Rodrigues, a Portuguese woman who has been in Cedillo for more than forty years and does not miss a Wednesday market.

The need to boost trade and tourism

On the Portuguese side, the bridge has also been an object of desire for years. The municipality of Montalvão (442 inhabitants) is in a depressed region that needs to develop tourism and commerce to grow, as José Leandro, the vice president of the Chamber of Nisa, points out. He will supervise the construction of the bridge financed by the Portuguese Government. “We hope to conclude it in 2026, it urges us all,” says León.

Paulo Monsarto, a 50-year-old merchant who runs a grocery store, points out the importance of commercial relations to promote the development of the town: “We are not only talking about money, but also about the growth of two sister regions.” The 50-year-old baker Sergio Pereira often travels to Spain to sell his goods on both sides and emphasizes that “the market is more than a business, it is also a way of life and has to do with a local culture”.

Paulo Monsarto (50) about to deliver a local cheese to his shop in Montalvao, Portugal.
Paulo Monsarto (50) about to deliver a local cheese to his shop in Montalvao, Portugal.Roberto Palomo

Blanca González, a 19-year-old worker at a greengrocer in Cedillo, asks for opportunities for young people: “The connection between the two countries would help a lot.” And he adds: “We are fed up with political battles, we are interested in real solutions.”

The political battle with the project

The PSOE deputy and spokesman for Transport and Mobility in Congress, César Ramos, has defended the bridge project together with Luis Moreira Testa, a Portuguese deputy, and assures that the PP has “blocked” it. The political conflict dates back to 2011, when the Popular Party obtained the presidency of the Cáceres Provincial Council and resigned from using European funds that the socialist government had obtained to build the bridge between Spain and Portugal that would allow communication to the residents of the two sides of the Stripe. “The funds could not be recovered and were lost,” laments Ramos. Laureano León (PP) refutes his version and explains that they rejected the project because they saw no commitment from the Portuguese Government and they saw it as insufficient: “In a context of crisis, the union of two towns of just 500 inhabitants did not seem to us a priority issue. ”.

In the small groups of the PP they called the project “El Puente de Morales”. The aforementioned, Miguel Ángel Morales, vice president of the Cáceres Provincial Council between 2003 and 2011 and a native of Cedillo, is blunt: “The PP knew that the Portuguese Government was willing to cover the entire budget.” And he adds: “I always defended that with the construction of the bridge we united peoples, but fundamentally we united people and gave an economic boost”. The PSOE returned to the council in 2015 and again requested the same subsidy for the 2014-2020 period, but Europe denied it. “This happens in Extremadura, if it were in Catalonia or the Basque Country it would not happen”, Morales defends.

Zelia Carrillo (64) behind the bar of her Café Paraiso bar in Montalvao.
Zelia Carrillo (64) behind the bar of her Café Paraiso bar in Montalvao.Roberto Palomo

The challenge of connecting and boosting depressed areas

Older people, like 67-year-old Zelia Carrillo, look to the future with skepticism. “The dam ended many relationships, we have lost cultural, commercial and social ties,” summarizes Carrillo. “Hopefully our grandchildren do not suffer the current isolation.” In the bar that he has run in Montalvão for 50 years, El Café Paraíso, Spanish and Portuguese mix, drinking and sharing together as if they were family. The tavern, with a metal bar and austere decoration, shows the closeness between Spain and Portugal. Of the eight present, all have family or friends on both sides of the Raya. “Emotionally we are already connected, we just need to make things easier for us,” sums up Zelia while mixing Portuguese and Spanish. “Talk later portuñol as we spoke 50 years ago, there are things that do not change ”, he assures while dispatching three Spaniards who respond to him in their native language.

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