'Why Don't You Shut Up?' Spain's King Tells Hugo Chavez

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Spain's king has won widespread praise in his country for telling Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to "shut up" during an Ibero-American summit, a meeting that underscored the strengthening ties among Latin America's cabal of hard-line leftists.

Saturday's rebuke from King Juan Carlos followed Chavez' repeated references to former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as a "fascist." Aznar was a close ally of President Bush who was defeated in a 2004 election.

As the current prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zaptero, scolded Chavez and urged him show respect for the legitimately elected former Spanish leader, he drew a flow of interruptions from the Venezuelan leader, who said he had the right to say what he liked.

Then the king -- sitting next to Zapatero -- leaned forward and said to Chavez, "Why don't you shut up?"

A short time later, when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a close Chavez ally, accused the Spanish embassy of interfering in Nicaraguan politics, the king walked out, a gesture Spanish media said was unprecedented.

Video footage of the exchange played repeatedly on Spanish television over the weekend, and media commentators and politicians largely supported the king, although a far-left political party said that whatever one's views of Chavez' comments, the king's remarks and walkout had been inappropriate.

The El Mundo newspaper said the king had "put Chavez in his place," something that should have been done a long time ago.

El Pais said the king's response was correct, as Chavez had crossed the line of what could be tolerated in relations between sovereign countries.

An English-language Spanish online news service said should monarchs ever be required to stand for election, King Juan Carlos "would be home and dry."

The Socialist prime minister, who is no ally of the conservative he defeated in 2004, also won praise for standing up for his predecessor. Spanish media reported that Aznar had phoned both Zapatero and King Juan Carlos to thank them.

The king's remark -- in Spanish, "por que no te callas?" -- looks set to become a catch-phrase. By late Saturday, Spanish Internet users had snapped up the domain names porquenotecallas.com, porquenotecallas.net and porquenotecallas.org.

The incident happened towards the end of the summit, which brought together heads of state from Latin America and former colonial powers Spain and Portugal in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

After the summit, an unrepentant Chavez continued his attack, suggesting to journalists that the king may have had advance knowledge of a failed coup against Chavez in 2002.

"He may be king, but he could not shut me up," he said. "The difference between him and me is that I have been elected three times."

If Chavez has his way, there soon may be no limit on how many more elections he may contest as he pushes ahead his plans for "21st-century socialism." A referendum next month will consider controversial constitutional amendments that include ending term limits and allowing for the suspension of civil liberties during states of emergency.

The planned amendments being pushed by the overwhelmingly pro-Chavez parliament are causing the outspoken leader political headaches.

They have prompted student street protests -- some violently suppressed -- and last week sparked a fallout between the president and his former defense minister, Raul Baduel, who said he would urge citizens to vote against the changes. Chavez in turn called Baduel a "traitor" and accused him of siding with "imperialism" -- that is, the United States.

Chavez' clique

The weekend summit, while overshadowed by the "shut up" incident, demonstrated again that the links between Chavez and his regional supporters, primarily Ortega, Eva Morales of Bolivia, and the regime in Cuba, represented at the meeting by the ailing Fidel Castro's executive secretary.

Chavez and his allies spearheaded criticism of other participants for taking an insufficiently left-wing approach to socio-economic development. After the leaders' summit, the Chavez-led group also went on to make an appearance at a parallel "people's summit" organized by Chilean left-wing groups.

In his assessment of the summit, Cuba's Castro praised Chavez for his "devastating criticisms at Europe." In an essay published by state-run media, Castro added that the revolutionary hero Che Guevara "would have been proud of the statements made by several revolutionary and courageous leaders," citing Morales and Ortega in particular.

But, Castro said, Guevara would have been pained to hear speeches from other leftist leaders at the summit, an apparent reference to participants like Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil.

Castro was particularly critical of El Salvadorean President Tony Saca, calling his speech "disgusting." El Salvador under Saca is a close ally of the U.S. and the only country in the region to have troops in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Cuban media, meanwhile, reported on an initiative to bring Aznar, a hate figure to many on the left, to trial for his role in the Iraq war.

Aznar lost an election three days after terrorists killed 191 people in a series of train bombings in Madrid. Zapatero subsequently kept a campaign promise to withdraw 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq.

Under Zapatero, Spain's relations with the U.S. have cooled considerably, a trend attributed in part to his ongoing criticism of the Iraq war and U.S. anti-terror policies, his open support for Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, and his lobbying to end European Union diplomatic sanctions imposed on Cuba after a 2003 clampdown on political dissidents.

Ironically, Zapatero has also strengthened ties with Chavez, and came under fire in 2005 for agreeing to sell military equipment to Venezuela, despite U.S. requests not to do so.

Venezuela's leftist Telesur television station Sunday quoted Chavez as saying he expected diplomatic and commercial relations with Spain would not be affected by the weekend incident.

Chavez said he had been surprised at Zapatero's defense of Aznar, considering the two Spanish politicians' ideological differences.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow