efe-epaBy Mar Marín Lisbon

You have to go back 30 years to get a picture of what the border between Spain and Portugal looks like today - border checks, closed roads, things that were banished to the history books.

Eva Martínez Mendiero is Spanish, but she lives in Lisbon and her daughters are Portuguese. Her father lives in Badajoz, on the Spanish side of the border.

The closure of the border on the Iberian Peninsula was always something unimaginable for her but she acknowledges it is the only option in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

“The uncertainty in a situation like this isn’t good, but it is what it is. My heart is split in two by the border. It’s a new situation, an unknown one,” she says.

“It’s emotional, but you have to be strong to overcome the circumstances."

Luiz Araújo was born in the Portuguese border town of Vilar Formoso but lives not far away in the Spanish town of Ciudad Rodrigo with his Spanish wife and daughter. His mother remains in Portugal.

“You have to be aware of the problem, you can’t carry on with normal life.”

Martínez and Araújo are among thousands of Spaniards and Portuguese affected by the closure of the Spain-Portugal border, the oldest and one of the longest European frontiers, which because of Covid-19 is currently only open to trade.

Conscious of the social impact of this separation, the governments of both Portugal and Spain have tried to emphasize that the situation is temporary.

“We’re going through tough times,” Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, said in an address to Spain’s population sent to Efe.

“Time to look inside, to take care of yourself and others, to come together as family and to think of others. We are going to be separated by a border, but always united as neighbors.”

In a similar vein, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said: "Tomorrow we shall be together again, without restrictions or borders. My dear friend António, the Portuguese people, together we make this decision to take care of our people and our compatriots.

“We will beat Covid-19 with the strength of everyone (coming together). And when this passes, we will once again embrace as the brotherly countries we are.”

It was a call to calm that highlighted the strong relationship between the two nations.

Long gone are the days when they regarded each other with suspicion.

Today, strengthened by European Union membership, they are advancing in joint projects, and not only in the world of politics and economics.

Cooperation extends into all fields: science, agriculture, tourism, medicine - and the potential is huge.

From the Interreg V A Spain-Portugal (POCTEP) program to the EU, the two Iberian countries are immersed in development initiatives.

"Interreg has been one of the main drivers of confidence-building across borders, which is invaluable from a political, economic and social point of view," Elisa Ferreira, the European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, told Efe.

EU funds have gone towards initiatives like Probioma, which allows Spanish and Portuguese specialists to research whether bacteria found in paleolithic caves and abandoned mines could be used in future medicines.

There are also projects to preserve traditions that span the border, languages such as Barranquenho and Mirandés, which are only spoken along the banks of the Raya river, as well as wildlife like the Iberian lynx.

But none of these programs would have been possible without the underpinning of the strong bond between the Spanish and Portuguese people.

The border harbors thousands of tales of friendship, tales that prove no barrier would come between the two populations.

Stories like that of Barrancos, the Portuguese town that took in thousands of republican refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Shortly before her death, Francisca Agudo, one of the last survivors of the refugee camps in Barrancos, told Efe of her experience of the war as a nine-year-old girl.

She described them as years of poverty and pain, but also of fraternity. It was also a time of contraband trafficking, as Spaniards and Portuguese alike opened breaches in the border during the harsh years of dictatorship in both countries.

Many of those once-illegal crossings are still used today as rural paths and even tourist routes.

The police have once again closed them due to the virus.

And that is why the work of people like Antonio Reinas is crucial.

Antonio is the founder of Radio Frontiera, which operates out of Vilar Formoso.

"Bom dia, buenos días,” he says, opening his show. His slogan - “the border that unites us.”EFE

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