by José de la Isla
HOUSTON—Confronting Venezuela President Hugo Chávez during a plenary session of the XVII Ibero-American Summit, held in Santiago de Chile this month, King Juan Carlos of Spain, told the Venezuelan to bug-off, in so many words.
The incident occurred when Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had the floor. Chávez interrupted a second time.
In his first interruption, Chávez denounced Spain’s former president José María Aznar. Rodríguez Zapatero cut in while Chávez revealed a conversation he had with Aznar during the former president’s 2002 trip to Venezuela.
Chávez finished the statement, saying, “A snake is more human than a fascist or a racist; a tiger is more human than a fascist or a racist.”
Rodríguez Zapatero called for some respect for the ex-president. “It’s possible to be diametrically opposed to an ideological position and it’s not I who is close to Aznar’s ideas, but he was elected by the Spanish people and I demand that respect.“
Chávez interrupted, claiming his right to express his opinions.
“Of course. Of course,” said Rodríguez Zapatero. But Chávez continued making interjections. King Juan Carlos, who was leaning back in a chair next to Rodríguez Zapatero, reared forward, his patience tried. Visibly upset, he faced Chávez at the end of the table and three panelists away, and raised his hand in Chávez’s direction.
He then made his now-famous vituperation, “Why don’t you shut up!”
That’s when Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called for tabling private conversations. Now with Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega starting to criticize Spanish companies, as had Chávez the day before, the King decided to leave the session. Cuba Vice President Carlos Lage said in Venezuela’s defense that an attack on Spain’s former president was not an attack on the King or on Spain’s current government.
Minutes later, King Juan Carlos returned to attend the closing ceremony at the urging of Michelle Bachelet, who went out looking for him.
Not willing to let sleeping dogs lie at the closing ceremony, Chávez brought up Spanish colonialism as responsible for “the greatest genocide known in the history of our people.” He added Juan Carlos “might be king but he can’t make me shut up.”
In 2003 Chávez had compared Aznar, Spain’s former president, as imperious for saying Chávez ought to not duplicate Cuba’s experience in Venezuela. Then in May 2005, Aznar, who was out of offi ce and visiting Brazil, criticized Venezuela’s relationship with Cuba. Chávez compared Aznar to Hitler and called him a fascist and an “imbecile.”
Two years ago, because of the Venezuelan’s close association with Castro, Aznar called Chávez a threat to democracy in Latin America. He also attributed Chavez’s brashness to domestic failures softened by $60 a barrel oil revenues padding Venezuela’s coffers.
In October 2006, Aznar again called Chávez-brand populism and radicalism a threat to Latin America. In April of this year, Chávez remarked that it’s better to have nothing to do with people like Aznar, telling a group of students that Aznar had supported the attempted coup against him in 2002 and supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Throughout the 1990s and to the present, Spanish corporations have been the leading European investors in Latin America. So much so their commercial interests are sometimes referred to as the re-conquest.
While he was at it, Chávez included Mexico’s Vicente Fox and Peru ex- presidents Alejandro Toledo as “lackeys and puppy dogs of the empire.”
While Hugo Chávez was making his fi nal remarks at the closing ceremony at the National Stadium in Santiago de Chile, Cuba Vice President Carlos Lage handed him his cell phone. Fidel was calling.
Fidel, Chávez told the audience, was remembering the Chilean combat volunteers who died fi ghting Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. Chávez called on the crowd to send out a cheer to Castro. “¡Fidel, Fidel! What is it he has the imperialists can’t handle.” Maybe it was their last hoorah.
But the multitudes — the nerve endings of economic statistics and commercial strategies — the consumers and workers talked about at forums, they are the ones just now finding a voice and who won’t shut up.
[José de la Isla, author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power” (Archer Books, 2003) writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org]. © 2007