Monday, November 19, 2007

It’s hard to shut up “The Mouth of the South” – El Rey versus El Presidente

In case you didn’t notice, last week Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, told Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, to “Shut up!” They were both in Santiago, Chile where they were attending a conference of democratically elected Ibero-American leaders, including the Presidents of many Latin American countries and the Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. (Which makes one wonder: why was the King even invited?)

Most of the international corporate media, which have made a habit of criticizing President Chavez and reporting all kinds of unsubstantiated, ridiculous, and negative stories about Venezuela, immediately sided with the king. In fact, they made it appear that Chavez had been the one who had insulted the King.

But Chavez had merely pointed out that the former Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar, was a “fascist.” Based on the evidence, this seems like a reasonable conclusion. For one thing, when he was the head of the Spanish government, Aznar helped sponsor the attempted coup against Chavez in 2002. Secondly, from the time he was defeated and left office in Spain until the present time, Aznar has been waging an international ultra-rightwing campaign to remove Chavez from office by any means necessary. He has even been employed by the ultra-right media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, as a means of expediting his mission.

Aznar’s political and family roots are firmly grounded in the Spanish Falange, the fascist political party of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain as a dictatorship for nearly forty years. When he was Prime Minister, Aznar surrounded himself with many Franco sympathizers and members of Opus Dei, the secretive, rightwing Catholic organization that was founded by a Spanish priest in 1928, but only rose to prominence under Franco. It seems to be no coincidence that Aznar’s first names, Jose Maria, are the same as the founder of Opus Dei, Josemaria Escrivá.

At a meeting of unity, confrontation

One of the major tasks of this Ibero-American Summit was to discuss methods for overcoming the poverty, misery, and social marginalization that have plagued Latin America for centuries. This is a topic whose time has come, since the Latin American countries feel they have a historical opportunity to break with the past and provide a politically democratic, more egalitarian future for their citizens. However, the assembled leaders see themselves pursuing this transformation in two distinctly different ways.

The boldest moves are being made by Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, which are talking about breaking free of capitalist exploitation and First-World dominance by openly adopting socialist and anti-imperialist policies. Many other countries, such as Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, are talking about gradual shifts within a capitalist structure that will provide more public welfare while remaining very friendly to multinational capital and corporations.

In to overcome these differences, President Chavez has worked very hard in recent years to forge stronger diplomatic links between all these countries. He believes their combined economic and diplomatic strength can allow them to pursue their own “Southern” objectives. But at the conference in Chile, he was reaching out to his fellow leaders and explaining that the capitalist powers in the North do not like this process and are actively trying to subvert it. On the last day of the summit, Chavez was very specific about one of the perpetrators of this subversion, "You all know that Jose Maria Aznar, I said it yesterday and I'll repeat it today, that man is a fascist."

The Socialist Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, responded defensively, “You can be against a certain ideological position, and I am not very close to the ideas of Aznar, but he was elected by the Spanish people, and I demand respect.”

Chavez immediately countered that Aznar was the one who needed to demonstrate “respect” for the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people and stop interfering in Venezuelan politics.

This was too much for the King Juan Carlos, who leaned over the table, gestured toward President Chavez, and said, “Por qué no te callas? -- “Why don’t you shut up!?”

Reaction

Chavez was not without supporters, since Bolivian President Evo Morales and Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage quickly came to his defense. And when Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua denounced Spain and the United States for continuing to act like imperialist powers in Latin America, the King stood up and walked out of the session.

Chavez also had supporters at home, and thousands of them cheered him at the airport when he returned to Venezuela. One of them, Josefina Carbaño, put it succinctly, "A king imposed by the dictatorship of General Franco has no moral or political authority to silence the President of Venezuela.”

True, Juan Carlos was declared a “Prince of Spain” by Franco in 1969, then spent several years appearing at public functions with the dictator, and became King when Franco died in 1975. But fortunately, he was willing to step aside as Spain became a constitutional monarchy ruled by a democratically elected parliament. Over the next thirty years he was mostly stayed out of politics and spent most of his time looking very regal for the society photographers of the global celebrity magazines.

While most of the major corporate media in Spain jumped to the defense of the King, there were other dissenting voices. Gaspar Llamazares, speaking for the United Left coalition in Spain, said there were "documents and information that show that the former government - led by Jose Maria Aznar - not only did not condemn the coup, but also collaborated in changing the democratic regime for a dictatorship."

As for Chavez, he was at all not apologetic about what had transpired in Chile. “We've been here for 500 years,” he said, “and we'll never shut up, much less at the demands of a monarch. If I shut up, the people of Latin America would scream. They are ready to be free of all colonialism after 500 years."

The underlying tension

Now you may be wondering, why did President Chavez want to put so much emphasis on ex-Prime Minister Aznar and his ultra-right sympathies?
Why didn’t he avoid this confrontation, particularly in Chile, where the residual power of the right-wing Armed Forces has Socialist President Bachelet walking on eggshells?

The reason is that this confrontation is much bigger than the question of Aznar’s political sympathies and Chile’s slow road back to democracy. Currently, as Venezuela is about to vote on a very ambitious and progressive package of constitutional reforms, Aznar is just one small weapon in the arsenal of the United States government, its political allies, the global media, the transnational corporations, and their friends in the Venezuelan opposition. They are combining forces in a propaganda campaign that seeks to destabilize Venezuela and they are leaving no stone unturned as they look for low and dirty things to throw at Chavez.

And how could I forget, after mentioning Jose Maria Aznar’s ties to Opus Dei and Josemaria Escrivá, to mention the Church? Some of the dirtiest tricks are being generated by the Catholic bishops, who are using the ecclesiastical hierarchy in an overtly political way to claim that Chavez wants to create a Communist/Leninist/Stalinist state that will restrict all forms of religious devotion and private property.

At lower levels, some of the good fathers are using their priestly networks to spread outright lies about the constitutional reforms. One conservative North American priest working in Venezuelan recently started circulating e-mails to his contacts in the United States outlining the dreadful things that would happen if the reforms are passed. Supposedly, people would be forced to give up rooms in their homes in order to house families they didn’t even know. And money, according to him would simply be confiscated: people with over $2,000 in the bank would be forced to turn their extra money over to the government. The list went on and on, and had no relation to any of the proposed changes in the Constitution.

These particular priests ignore the fact that a great many Christians, both Catholics and evangelicals, support Chavez, because when he talks about “21st century socialism” he explicitly preaches about “Christian” socialism. The priest and religious workers that I know are supportive of both Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution. But I suspect, in a country with only two thousand priests, many of them teaching in elite private schools and colleges, that my acquaintances are in the minority.

Chavez was trying to rally support

Who knows if Chavez’s willingness to use the “f” word (fascist), will win him support from most of the other Latin American countries? Countries with mildly social democratic or liberal tendencies do not have a history of standing up and defending their more revolutionary brethren, and they shy away from the “f” word, not to mention the “i” word. When Salvador Allende appeared at the United Nations in 1973, just a few weeks before General Pinochet overthrew his democratic government, he gave a stirring speech that declared that the forces of imperialism were stalking Chile and were about to strike. And no one came to his aid.

The situation in Venezuela is not so grave, for Chavez and the majority of the people have a strong economy and a loyal military behind them. The constitutional reforms appear to be headed for passage by the democratic vote of the people. (We should recall that U.S. voters have never been able to vote directly for the articles of their constitution, including the one that prohibits U.S. presidents from running for three or four terms like Franklin Roosevelt did.)

Still, the pressure brought to bear on Venezuela by the capitalist world and the capitalist media will be onerous and continuous. In spite of that pressure, the reforms to the constitution (which I’ll try to review for you briefly in the very near future) should enable the people to make strides toward democratic socialism while still maintaining plenty of room for individual freedom and small and medium businesses.

Many of the quotations in this article came from “Venezuelan President Clashes with the King of Spain at Latin American Summit,”November 12th 2007, by Chris Carlson at Venezuelanalysis.com, and “Spanish-Venezuelan Spat Continues As Both Try to Calm Issue,” November 13th 2007, by Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com

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