Spain's King Reacts & Chavez Wins

by Rick Rockwell

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, always a polarizing figure these days, came away from the Ibero-American summit in Chile this weekend with another propaganda triumph.

Not only did Chavez provoke Spain’s king to resort to insults at the end of the summit, but Chavez also led a rally of leftist leaders that showed he’s the most prominent of the hemisphere’s leftist leaders. All this was stealing headlines while the student opposition movement in Venezuela was leading protests against Chavez’ proposed constitutional reforms. Venezuelans will vote on Dec. 2 on a long list of reforms which will centralize more power in Chavez’ hands while giving him the opportunity for unlimited re-election in the future. Chavez’ current term ends in 2013 and he would not be able to stand for re-election under current law.

Chavez provoked the Spanish at the summit of 19 nations by counter-punching against Spanish businessmen. Those businessmen have questioned the safety of investments in Venezuela, a country which has been nationalizing oil and telecommunications properties lately under Chavez. During the summit, Chavez also called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a fascist. During Aznar’s time in office, Spain was a staunch ally of the Bush administration and the U.S. and Spain became part of the coalition which invaded Iraq.

Although Jose Luis Zapatero, Spain’s current prime minister and a leftist, campaigned strongly against Aznar’s policies, he came to the defense of his predecessor in his closing speech at the summit. That’s when Chavez started to interrupt Zapatero’s speech. And in turn, that provoked King Juan Carlos to forcefully tell Chavez to “shut up.” In his speech, Zapatero chided Chavez for being “disrespectful” of opposing ideas and leaders. Some of the other heads of state spontaneously applauded Zapatero’s criticisms of Chavez.

But undoubtedly Chavez will win the image battle in Venezuela over this latest contretemps. Despite his rudeness, Chavez will come across as the revolutionary leader taking on the Spanish monarchy. Is there any better parallel to Chavez’ hero, Simon Bolivar?

Before leaving Chile, Chavez also led a rally of about 3,000 in what was called a People’s Summit. He was joined by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Bolivian President Evo Morales, along with other leftist leaders at the rally, which prominently featured Chavez phoning Fidel Castro on a cell phone and reporting the conversation to the cheering crowd.

How can a rally of a few hundred students in Caracas beat all of that political theater in the media? Well, frankly, it can’t.

This is what makes Chavez the champion when it comes to further building up his cult of personality. And that is what is likely to make all the difference next month when Chavez gets his way again at the polls and wins the constitutional reforms which will keep him in power for a very long time to come.

For a selection of past posts on Hugo Chavez, please see:

(The photo shows President Hugo Chavez leading a tour of international dignitaries at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas earlier this year with a portrait of Simon Bolivar prominently displayed; the photo is by Marcello Casal Jr. of Agência Brasil, the Brazilian news agency, which offers its material for use via a Creative Commons License.)

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Rick Rockwell said...

Update: To see part of the exchange between Zapatero, Chavez and King Juan Carlos, please go here. (This is coverage from Spanish television and there is no translation, for your information.)

Anonymous said...

Excellent video

Chavez comes off as a complete bully and street thug. This will surely play well at home but I think this is the begining of the end for Chavez. He has clearly lost touch with reality. Chavez probably thinks because he scored points by attacking Bush that he now has a free pass to attack any western leader.

Chavez paid no political price for his attacks on Bush because most of the world despises Bush. But watch, this attack on Aznar will have serious implications. I guarantee this is the beginning of the end for Chavez. A MAJOR miscalculation.

Chavez insulted the entire Spanish population and Spain has a lot of muscle in South America. As a consequence, some serious finance will dry up for Venezuala as will a lot of investment. The initial bump that Chavez may get in populist support among the poor of Venezuala will deteriorate as Spain business pulls back from supporting investments, and believe me they will.

Rick Rockwell said...

Here are a few interesting updates....

First, Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.S. attempts to set The Washington Post straight about some of its recent reporting on Chavez, Venezuela and the up-coming referendum. Please go here to see it.

Also, the BBC reports that actually the king's reaction has increased his popularity. Please go here to see more.

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