Hugo Chavez’s and Juan Carlos’ family feud

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The outburst at last week’s Ibero-American summit in Chile between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Spain’s King Juan Carlos had all the hallmarks of a family feud. When Chavez accused the former Spanish prime minister José MarÃa Aznar of being a fascist, Spain’s current prime minister, José LuÃs RodrÃguez Zapatero insisted that respect be shown to his predecessor — even though, the leftist Zapatero stated, he had little political affinity with the right-wing Aznar. When Chavez continued speaking, the king wagged a finger and demanded, ‘Why don’t you shut up?’

To the contrary, in the days since the incident, Chavez has been speaking out even more, suggesting that the king’s rebuke echoed the former Spanish empire’s haughtiness and abuse of its onetime Latin American colonies and comparing Latin America’s people to the persecuted Christ. It was as if George W. Bush had reproached Queen Elizabeth II for the British army’s torching of the White House in the War of 1812.


But Latin America’s relationship with the Spanish motherland is considerably more complex and conflicted than the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States. Relations between Spain and its progeny have improved greatly in recent decades, as Spain’s governments, banks and businesses have invested heavily, from Cuba to Patagonia. But even after 500 years, resentments remain toward the former colonizer.

It’s also worth remembering that during the Spanish Civil War, droves of Republican exiles took refuge in Latin America from Gen. Franco — a man entirely deserving of the ‘fascist’ label. What’s more, just imagine the uproar if Britain’s opinionated Prince Charles were to tell George Bush (or Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani, for that matter) to shut his yap.

Still, historical aggrievement might not be the only explanation for Chavez’s righteous indignation and nationalistic rhetoric about Venezuelan sovereignty. Chavez has been facing mounting opposition at home over his plans to make changes to Venezuela’s constitution, including ending presidential term limits, which could extend his reign for years to come. The country’s pro-Chavez National Assembly already has approved the proposed changes, and student demonstrators have taken to the streets.

So should President Chavez heed the King’s advice? La Plaza reports, you decide.

Posted by Reed Johnson in Mexico City