“Porque no te callas?”

Well, that was interesting:

SANTIAGO: Spain’s king Juan Carlos I told Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to “just shut up,” bringing an Ibero-American summit to end in spectacular fashion on Saturday.

Spain’s monarch stormed out just before the scheduled end of the forum, visibly furious at Chavez’s description of his former PM as a “fascist” and for launching a wide-ranging tirade that could not be stopped.

The dispute was a dramatic finale for the 17th meeting of the heads of state and government of Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in Latin America, and Spain, Portugal and Andorra, which started on Thursday.

[Chavez’s] description of Spain’s former conservative PM Jose-Maria Aznar as a “fascist” prompted current PM Jose-Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a socialist, to call on Chavez to show more “respect.” But Chavez forged on, and on Saturday he repeated the contentious f-word in relation to Aznar, adding: “A fascist isn’t human, a snake is more human than a fascist.” An irate king Juan Carlos then stepped in, demanding of Chavez: “Why don’t you just shut up?”

Aparently Chavez was talking over (current, Socialist) Spanish PM Zapata in a wide-ranging attack on (former, conservative) Spanish PM Jose Aznar. There was an attempt to turn off his microphone, but you don’t stop Hugo Chavez when he’s on a roll.

The King’s comment may have been (if I understand correctly, and maybe I don’t) more insulting in Spanish Spanish than in Venezuelan Spanish, because he used the “tu” form. In much of Latin America that’s no big deal, but in Spain (I’m told) it’s only used for close friends, children and animals. So “porque no te callas” is very much de haut en bas.

Unsurprisingly, the Venezuelan media has lined up behind Hugo, and the Spanish — even the leftish El Pais –behind the King; around the world, conservatives are high-fiving, while socialists are fuming that Chavez is a democratically elected leader, who should not be shushed by a hereditary monarch.

Comment threads on this tend to spiral into “Chavez is a dictator!” “No he isn’t!” and “You know, the King was chosen by Franco, but he actually helped end fascism in Spain.” So let’s take the first two as not being very useful, and the last as given. Is this just an amusing break in Iberian good manners, or is there anything deeper here?

This entry was posted in Culture, Europe and the world and tagged , by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

7 thoughts on ““Porque no te callas?”

  1. On the tu vs. usted thing, for most people it’s the other way around. Though I can well imagine that el Rey uses ‘usted’ much more than every one else in the country.

    Admittedly, I’m personally not that interested in the opinions of the extremes of the Spanish left, but Zapatero (the Socialist prime minister) did intervene on Aznar’s behalf, and *none* of the other Spanish reaction to it that I read on Monday after a friend posted a link to the story in IRC, was supportive of Chávez. I got the impression that Chávez may have just made Spanish politics in general a little less childish.

  2. There’s an incredible irony in Chavez and the venezuelans feeling insulted and talking about the respect owed to a democratically elected president when Chavez got told to shut because he was talking over an elected prime minister who was reminding Chavez that his elected precedessor deserved respect.

    gosh that sentence was complicated.
    but yeah.. the irony is never ending.

  3. “is there anything deeper here?”

    Well the honest answer, and from inside Spain, is that I have simply no idea. But since that doesn’t seem a very satisfactory response, I will tell you the little story I’ve been telling myself (and anyone silly enough to waste their time listening to me on this) all week.

    Basically everything in Spain is about business. Now… we just had the sub-prime bust in the US, and Spanish construction is taking a nose dive. Spain is getting older, and so like Ronaldinho footballistically, needs to invent a new role for itself. This role could well involve Latin America, since China and India are a bit culturally remote from down here.

    As luck would have it, and given the global recoupling process which is currently taking place *some* Latin American countries – Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Columbia basically – are now growing very quickly.

    Venezuela, otoh, apart from the oil revenues is an economic disaster area, and Bolivia and Ecuador aren’t far behind. So…

    Chavez is deeply unpopular among the about to be rich and influential middle classes in the fast growing countries, so what could be a better way to win friends and influence people than by giving Chavez a public dressing down in front of millions and millions of TV viewers.

    Also, I wouldn’t make too much of the language the king used, I mean Spanish culture is a bit complex here, and has nothing to do with courtly behaviour (or misbehavior) UK style. Indeed in survey after survey, for eg, they find, that while Spanish people freely and wholeheartedly condemn ETA terrorism, at the same time they respect Basques more than they do Catalans because they have “cojones” (“balls” if you will, though the Spanish prefer the expression “huevos” or eggs), presumeably since they stand up and fight.

    Basically moving the Spanish monarchy just a tad nearer the street is probably no bad move on the part of the king’s image advisers (don’t ever mistake appearing to be angry actually with being angry, there are a lot of theatricals in Spanish public life, and a lot of people are speculating that the king and Zapatero agreed tactics here before the meeting). I could almost hear the “por una puta vez” (just for f***ing once) on his lips as a kind of unspoken refrain, and I’m sure millions of Spanish speakers also could.

    On the other hand other explanations do occur to me. Maybe Juan Carlos simply doesn’t like golpistes, he proved that on the 23 Feb, and Chavez is only where he is at the end of the day thanks to a “golbe militar”.

    Or maybe, and this would be one for the “premsa rosa” he wanted to be a gentleman, and deflect attention away from the recent news about the separation of his daughter, Eelena, which is a result I think he certainly has achieved.

    Or maybe it was a combination of all these three things… or none of them. Who knows. But at the end of the day, speculating is fun, and maybe this is why we have monarchy these days, since all of us have to serve, but only a few need to serve as an example, either to be admired or ridiculed depending on your taste.

  4. The whole incident now seems to have be achieving the status of semi-official notoriety, since there is a piece about it today in the normally august pages of the financial times. Interestingly they take a rather different line from the one I am taking here, since they describe the outcome of the summit as a “disaster” for Spain.

    I’m still not so sure. Clearly the role of Spanish MNCs in Latin America is at the heart of the story, with Nicaragua president Daniel Ortega describing them “bunch of mafiosi using gangster tactics to extract as much profit from our privatised utilities as possible”.

    Obviously there are echoes here of Argentina post 2001, but I think that on the whole the FT is far too pessimistic about all this.

    Obviously Nicaragua is a sensitive issue for Zapatero given the emotional attachments of many of his party supporters – so he may now be more in favour with those Latin American leaders with whom he perhaps feels he has least ideologically in common – but beyond that, and beyond all the shouting, I can’t help feeling that all this will work to Spain’s advantage, since many of the recently more prosperous parts of Latin America (including Argentina’s newly elected president Cristina Fernandez) are in fact actively and energetically seeking inward FDI and Spain is ideally positioned to take advantage of this increase in demand, especially now that construction activity in Europe doesn’t have the same appeal for Spanish investors as it did until only recently.

    The FT do implicitly acknowledge this dimension:

    “Our influence in Latin America is greater than ever,” a spokesman (for the Spanish foreign ministry) insisted. “We are still the second-largest investors in the region after the US, with net investments totalling €120bn ($176bn, £86bn), and trade is growing, and we have privileged, strategic relations with Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia.”

    Basically they mention the same list of countries as I do above, and these are undoubtedly where all the economic action is at the current time. So what’s the big difference between these and the Nicaragua’s, Peru’s, Bolivia’s, Ecuador’s and Venezuela’s of this world at this point in time? Well, you could try looking at the fertility for a start, since all the former countries are now either below or very near to, replacement level fertility.

  5. What people might have lost sight of is that mr. Chavez had had all the opportunity he wanted to present his views (by calling former Spanish president mr. Aznar a fascist) while *he* had the floor, and then went on to try and silence Spain’s current president Zapatero while he had the floor by shouting.

    In the circumstances I feel that Guan Carlos’s outburst “Porque no te callas?” hit the nail on thehead, both in form and in content.

    Quite regardless of how one might feel about mr. Chavez’s views (I personally think they aren’t justified and even if they were, there are better ways for a head of state to formulate them), there are other views that have a right to be heard as well. That’s the only way one can have a debate instead of a shouting match.

    Mr. Chavez really had no right to shout through Zapatero’s address and should have waited -in silence- for him to finish.

  6. “Indeed in survey after survey, for eg, they find, that while Spanish people freely and wholeheartedly condemn ETA terrorism, at the same time they respect Basques more than they do Catalans because they have “cojones”, presumeably since they stand up and fight”.


    Who carried out those surveys? What did they survey? My take on it is they interviewed a bunch of retarded kids… The way the Basques stand up and fight is through murder and extorsion to maintain (mind that, maintain) the status quo as it is now; Catalans also want to maintain it as it is now, but instead of using guns, they use dialogue (ugly words) and hard work (wouldn´t surprise me if productivity in Catalonia were higher that in the rest of Spain). Any sensible Spaniard would tell you that Catalonia is far ahead of the rest of the country, they now it, and they use the independence threat to keep their leverage in Madrid.

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