Although there were surely far more important things happening in the world last week, there were few incidents that generated more column inches than Spanish King Juan Carlos’s “Why don’t you shut up?” jibe at Hugo Chavez caught on camera at the Ibero-American summit.
Many other bloggers in Barcelona felt compelled to comment on the issue illustrating a wide variety of opinion. For example, Landers in Barcelona praised the King for his actions whilst thebadrash concluded both men were in the wrong. In my mind however, few verdicts made more sense than Pablo Ouziel’s piece in The Online Journal.
There are three points worth making. Firstly and most importantly, comments and slagging matches aside, what the hell was a member of a royal family doing at a political summit in the first place anyway? That’s simply undemocratic. He’s not an elected politician and he shouldn’t have been there or at least not participating in the debate – full stop.
Secondly, it’s common courtesy that you don’t interrupt someone when they’re speaking and Chavez was wrong to do that however indignant he felt. I say that presuming that he would have been given a chance to respond to Zapatero. I’m not sure how it worked but it seemed like each politician had their allotted time rather than a mass debate. The King was equally rude but he wouldn’t have done it if Chavez hadn’t started it so let’s say Chavez was rather bad mannered.
Thirdly however, regarding the substance of what Chavez said – i.e. that former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar was a “fascist” – he was totally justified. If you take the word “fascist” to mean someone who has complete contempt for democracy, then Aznar was a textbook example. When the wealthy elites organised a military coup against the democratically elected Chavez, Aznar specifically instructed his ambassador in Venezuela to support it. Ouziel points out:
Even Spain’s Minister for External Affairs and Cooperation, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, in November 2004, during an interview on the program ’59 Segundos’ of TVE, acknowledged Aznar’s support for the coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002: “During the previous government, something unheard of in Spanish diplomacy took place, the Spanish ambassador received instructions to support the coup, something which is not going to be repeated in the future. This is not going to be repeated because we respect the wish of the people.”
Ouziel points out that this highly significant point has been virtually completely ignored by most of the mainstream media in Spain. Rather than look at why Hugo Chavez may have concluded that Aznar was a fascist, the media have whipped up a classic “Spain v South America” patriotic frenzy although this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Spanish media, which like in most Western democracies is owned by a tiny elite, naturally still have the old empire mentality that’s plundered South America since Christopher Columbus set sail in 1498. It’s not nice for them to see a working class scumbag from one of their former colonies come along and tell them that their former leader was massively anti-democratic.
“Fascist” is a very inflammatory word and overused so much in Spain that it’s probably lost a lot of it’s meaning. However even from the most crude interpretation of the word, Ouziel points out that Aznar fulfilled many of the criteria:
It is also important to emphasize the fact that throughout his career, Aznar has never denounced the Franco regime and when democracy was reintroduced in Spain in 1978, he opposed the new constitution. Aznar’s loyalty to Franco was further made clear when he denounced the municipal government of Guernika — best known as the scene of one of the first aerial bombings by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe — for wanting to change the name of their main street from “Avenida del General Franco” to “Avenida de la Libertad.”
And let’s not forget the fact that when most polls showed that 90% of his country objected to an illegal invasion of Iraq, Aznar “democratically” went ahead anyway. Oh, and he tried to blame the Madrid Bombings on ETA to win a general election etc. etc.
There’s lots of “fascist” and “anti-democratic” accusations that people may level at Chavez but that’s an entirely different debate (and blog post). Yes, Chavez may have been rude to interrupt a man when he was speaking but whether he was right or wrong to use the word “fascist”, the elite mainstream media have done nothing more than use the incident to whip up some good old fashioned blind patriotic hatred to get everyone behind King, country and deflect attention away from Spain’s own democratic failings.