Venezuela’s Chavez Blasts Spain’s King

It's been almost two hundred years since Venezuela first declared its independence from Spain, but over the past few days Hugo Chávez stoked Venezuelan nationalism again by attacking King Juan Carlos of Spain.
Spain's King Juan Carlos tells Venezuela's President Chavez to "Shut Up".

It's been almost two hundred years since
Venezuela first declared its independence from Spain, but over
the past few days Hugo Chávez stoked Venezuelan nationalism
again by attacking King Juan Carlos of Spain. The spat, which
could damage diplomatic relations between the two nations, began
over the weekend during a hemispheric summit held in Santiago,
Chile, during which Chávez called ex-Spanish Prime Minister
José María Aznar a "fascist." In one
of his typical rhetorical flourishes, Chávez added, "fascists
are not human. A snake is more human."

Moving to damp down the escalating rhetoric, Spanish Prime Minister
José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero then remarked:
"[Former Prime Minister] Aznar was democratically elected
by the Spanish people and was a legitimate representative of
the Spanish people." Insensed, Chávez wouldn't let
go. Though his microphone was turned off, the Venezuelan leader
repeatedly tried to interrupt.

Finally, Juan Carlos leaned
forward and said, "Why don't you shut up?" According
to reports, in addressing Chávez Juan Carlos did not use
the formal mode of address in Spanish known as usted but
rather the familiar form or , which is generally
reserved for close acquaintances or children, not a head of state.

and the 2002 Coup

The summit ended in
fiasco, as Juan Carlos stormed out of the meeting while Nicaraguan President Daniel
Ortega rushed to embrace and defend Chávez. Meanwhile,
Chávez said the king was "imprudent" and asked
if Juan Carlos knew in advance of the brief coup against him
in April, 2002. As he left Santiago, Chávez openly questioned
whether Spain's ambassador had appeared with Venezuelan interim
president Pedro Carmona during the 2002 coup with Juan Carlos's

"Mr King, did you know
about the coup d'etat against Venezuela, against the democratic,
legitimate government of Venezuela in 2002?" he asked. "It's
very hard to imagine the Spanish ambassador would have been at
the presidential palace supporting the coup plotters without
authorisation from his majesty," he insinuated. The Spanish
paper El Mundo quoted Chávez as saying that the
king had "got very mad, like a bull. But I'm a great bullfighter
– olé!" The Venezuelan firebrand added, "I think
it's imprudent for a king to shout at a president to shut up.
Mr King, we are not going to shut up."

Though Chávez enjoys
warm ties to the socialist Zapatero, the Venezuelan leader has
long lambasted the previous Spanish regime. During Bush's first
term the United States enjoyed a willing foreign partner in Spain.
José María Aznar, who had reorganized Spanish conservatives
into the People's Party (Partido Popular or PP) had been Prime
Minister of Spain since 1996. Though Chávez exaggerated
in calling Aznar a fascist, the Spanish politician's family certainly
had clear fascist ties. Aznar's grandfather, in fact, served
as Franco's ambassador to Morocco and the United Nations and
his father was a pro-Franco journalist.

In 2002, Aznar was Washington's
willing ally in opposing Chávez. Prior to the April 12
coup, Venezuelan businessman Carmona visited high level government
officials in Madrid as well as prominent Spanish businessmen.
Though it's unclear whether Juan Carlos gave his blessing as
Chávez suggested, once the coup had been carried out Carmona
called Aznar and met with the Spanish ambassador in Caracas,
Manuel Viturro de la Torre. The Spanish ambassador was accompanied
at the meeting by the U.S. Ambassador, Charles Shapiro. As Chávez
languished in a military barracks during the coup, PP parliamentary
spokesman Gustavo de Arístegui wrote an article in the
Spanish newspaper El Mundo supporting the coup. According
to anonymous diplomatic sources who spoke with Inter Press Service,
the Spanish foreign ministry holds documents which reveal the
Spanish role. The documents reportedly prove that de la Torre
had written instructions from the Aznar government to recognize
Carmona as the new president of Venezuela.

Fall Out

The diplomatic tit-for-tat
continued after the coup. After defeating the coup attempt, Chávez
detained the president of Fedecámaras, Carlos Fernández,
who was accused of helping to foment a lock out which reduced
oil output in 2002-03. Fernández was charged with inciting
unrest and sedition. In February 2003 Ana Palacio, the Spanish
Minister of External Affairs, criticized the detention. During
his Sunday radio and TV show, Chávez angrily shot back
that Spain should not interfere in Venezuela's internal affairs.
"We must respect each other," said Chávez. "Don't
get involved in our things and we won't involve ourselves in
your things. Is it necessary to remember that the Spanish ambassador
was here applauding the April coup?" Chávez added,
"Aznar, please, each one in his own place."

The diplomatic chill continued late into 2003 when Aznar criticized
Chávez for adopting "failed models" like those
of Cuba's Fidel Castro. Chávez retorted that Aznar's statements
were "unacceptable" and added that "perhaps Aznar
thinks he is Fernando VII and we are still a colony. No, Carabobo
[a battle of independence] already happened. Aznar, Ayacucho
[another battle during the wars of independence] already occurred.
The Spanish empire was already thrown out of here almost 200
years ago Aznar. Let those who stick their noses in Venezuela
take note that we will not accept it." In a further snub
Chávez stated that Aznar should respond to the Spanish
public which protested PP support for the invasion of Iraq. "He
should definitely take responsibility for that," Chávez

Miguel Angel Moratinos, the
Spanish Foreign Minister, has accused the previous PP administration
of supporting the failed coup d'etat against Chávez in
April 2002. Speaking on the Spanish TV program 59 Segundos,
Moratinos remarked that Aznar's policy in Venezuela "was
something unheard of in Spanish diplomacy, the Spanish ambassador
received instructions to support the coup." Before the cameras
Moratinos declared, "That won't happen in the future, because
we respect the popular will." Adding fuel to the fire Chávez
remarked "I have no doubt that it [the Spanish involvement]
happened. It was a very serious error on the part of the former
government." Chávez declared that Venezuela had no
problem with the PP nor with Spain, and that for a brief moment
the two countries enjoyed good relations. But later Aznar's political
as well as personal views changed. "With Aznar," Chávez
stated memorably, "there was neither chemistry, nor physics,
nor math."

Needless to say, Chávez's retort to Juan Carlos has not
been embraced by all. In Spain, the press has rushed to defend
the King against Chávez, while the Spanish community in
Venezuela called for a protest march against the President. Peru
and Chile, strong U.S. allies in the region, have also expressed
support for Juan Carlos and have criticized Chávez's reaction
at the summit.

Still, Chávez has gained welcome political mileage from
the incident, which has stoked unpleasant memories of Spanish
monarchical rule. United Left, a Spanish political party, qualified
Juan Carlos' statements as "excessive." Willy Meyer,
spokesperson for the party, said that Juan Carlos behaved as
if he was still in the 15th or 16th centuries. "The King
can't tell the Spanish President to shut up," he said, "and
doesn't have the right to do this to others outside of Spain."

For the past eight years, Chávez
has sought to build up the cult of Simón Bolívar,
a Venezuelan who liberated the country from Spanish rule. Books
on Bolívar are selling like hotcakes in Caracas, hardly
surprising in light of the political importance which Chávez
has attached to Bolívar in his public speeches. By attacking
Juan Carlos, Chávez may cast himself as a true Venezuelan
patriot fighting against the domineering attitude of the old
Spanish Empire. It's a move that plays well to the Chavista base
and Venezuelans' sense of national pride.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Hugo
Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S.
new book, Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New
will be released in April, 2008 with Palgrave-Macmillan.

Source: CounterPunch