President Chávez and the Spanish King, who was disrespectful to whom?

We, activists at Hands Off Venezuela have come to learn that the first rule when reading most media coverage about Venezuela is to turn it around 180 degrees If we want to find out the truth! A case in point is the recent coverage of the exchange between Chavez and Spanish King Juan Carlos I at the 17th Ibero-American summit in Chile in which the King told Chavez to shut up.

We, activists at Hands Off Venezuela have come to learn that the first rule when reading most media coverage about Venezuela is to turn it around 180 degrees If we want to find out the truth!

A case in point is the recent coverage of the exchange between Chavez and Spanish King Juan Carlos I at the 17th Ibero-American summit in Chile in which the King told Chavez to shut up.

The headline in the London Metro gives us "Spanish King sends a clear message to 'insulting' Venezuelan: Put a sock in it, Chavez".

AFP news says: "Spain's King Juan Carlos won praise back home on Sunday after telling Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to "just shut up" before storming out of an Ibero-American summit. Spain's monarch was applauded by Spanish media for his angry reprimand Saturday of Chavez, after the Venezuelan leader described a former Spanish prime minister as a "fascist" and launched into a wide-ranging tirade."

El Mundo newspaper from Spain is more of the same but includes quotes like: "The King has put Chavez in his place in the name of all Spaniards," and goes on to say the monarch's rebuke was "something that should have been said to him (Chavez) a long time ago."

king.jpg From most sources you get the idea that Chavez is a loose cannon throwing around random insults. TIME says: 'The King got fed up when the Venezuelan firebrand went on one of his rants and repeatedly accused former Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar of being a "fascist"'.

When describing who Chavez is, the yellow press often use the term 'populist' to imply a lack of intellectualism or to paint a picture of a man who will say anything just to stay popular. He is described with a dismissive tone and almost always set up as a bit of a mad man who has often 'grabbed attention with flamboyant speeches' and is, 'renowned for his long, rambling speeches'.

The length of his speeches is not disputed, but 'rambling' means to 'wander aimlessly' and I have personally heard and read many of Chavez's uncut speeches and would never describe them as aimless.  In fact, one doesn't have to look very hard at all to see he has very clearly and consistently put forward policies - as voted for by the Venezuelan people - that aim to transform Venezuelan society from predominantly serving the interests of the wealthy minority to serving the interests of the poor majority.  To do this, he is very clearly trying to break the traditional colonial ties of control over Venezuela's resources and economy in a bid for sovereignty. And, he knows Venezuela cannot do it in isolation, which informs the bulk of his international work and the speeches that come from it.

Nevertheless, his consistency of aim is often ignored by the main stream media.

So what is the context of this recent incident between Chavez and the Spanish Monarch?

One of the mandates of this year's Ibero-american summit was to try to overcome the wealth and social inequality in Latin America and a fierce ideological debate ensued. The role of imperialism and the multinationals and the policies of privatisation were cited as having serious effects in Latin America. Spanish multinationals in particular, were criticised. They have carried out what could be described as a second colonisation of the continent, taking over and looting companies, particularly electricity suppliers, gas companies, banks, telecommunications companies. The names of Repsol, Union Fenosa, BBVA, Telefonica, inspire justified rage when they are mentioned in Latin America.

Evo Morales, defended his policy of nationalisation in Bolivia, saying that basic resources and services like water, gas and electricity cannot be in private hands.  Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, mentioned the fact that the Spanish embassy had taken a position against him and the FSLN (Sandinista Front of National Liberation) in the recent elections despite which, Ortega won.

Zapatero, the social-democratic president of Spain intervened to defend the interests of Spanish multinationals, saying that there It did not matter whether basic services where state-owned or private and that nationalisation was not the solution. He added that foreign interference should not be used as an excuse for the many problems in Latin America itself that have impeded development.

When it was his turn, Chávez replied to Zapatero that foreign intervention in Latin America should not be minimised as a factor in the problems of the region. He said that in Chile, the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende was killed because of the interests of US multinationals. He added that in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, the two ambassadors involved, who greeted short-lived dictator Pedro Carmona, had been the Spanish and the US ambassadors.  Then Chavez went on to attack Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister at the time of the coup who, Chavez noted, has no right to go around the world criticising Chávez as a dictator. It was in this context that Chavez called Aznar a "fascist".

It should be noted that at the time of the coup Aznar was supporting an unelected regime led by Carmona, who shut down the Venezuelan state TV station Channel 8, who had Chavez held against his will in jail and who ordered the repression and arrest of the Venezuelan people who were protesting the coup. In all, the coup resulted in approximately 20 people killed and hundreds wounded.

It is also interesting to note that Aznar's father and grandfather both played big roles in the fascist dictatorship of Franco. As a teenager, Aznar was an active  member of a student union which was a branch of the falangist official party - the fascist party of Franco.

Also of interest, King Juan Carlos I was installed by none other than fascist dictator Generalisimo Franco in 1975.

Despite the fact that Chávez made it very clear that he was attacking the former Spanish government, not the current one, Zapatero felt the need to defend Aznar . He said that Aznar had been democratically elected by the Spanish people and had to be respected. Chávez interjected, asking him to tell Aznar to respect Venezuela. Zapatero replied "of course".

It was at this point that the King jumped in, in a very rude manner and said to Chávez "¿porqué no te callas?" which means "why don't you shut up?", using the familiar "tu" instead of the polite and respectful "usted", as if he was talking to one of his servants.

rey_ortega.jpg Later, Carlos Lage from Cuba and Daniel Ortega both defended Chávez and further attacked Aznar. It was then, that the King walked out of the meeting while Ortega was attacking Spanish electricity multinational Unión Fenosa.

In a press conference after, Chávez said that "we have been around for 500 years and we are not going to shut up...The King of Spain is as much a head of state as I am, or as...Evo Morales is, with the difference that I have been elected 3 times and he has never been elected." He added.

Chavez went on to say, "Mr. King, did you know about the coup d'etat against Venezuela? Against the democratic, legitimate government of Venezuela in 2002?...It's very hard to imagine the Spanish ambassador would have been at the presidential palace supporting the coup plotters without authorization from his majesty."

So, with the larger context in mind, we should ask ourselves who really insulted whom? And, why the media bias for the King of Spain?

Those who understand Spanish can see this Telesur summary of the events for themselves: