Chavez and summits: ‘Why won’t you shut up?’

May 15th, 2008 - 10:26 am ICT by admin  

By Veronica Sardon
Buenos Aires, May 15 (DPA) It is not yet clear whether Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will attend the European Union-Latin America and Caribbean (EU-LAC) Summit this Friday and Saturday in Lima. However, in his manner, the outspoken Venezuelan spiced up anticipation of the event, setting the scene for the cultural-political clashes, often coupled with his international appearances.

Everybody knows by now that Chavez makes full use of international platforms, both by talking for hours despite protocol and by making witty, funny or just plain rude comments about other public figures.

In 2006, he famously said it smelled of sulphur at the UN General Assembly lectern in New York, because US President George W. Bush, “the devil”, had stood there a day earlier.

More recently, at an Iberian-American summit in November in Santiago, Chavez got involved in an unlikely spat with Spain.

The Venezuelan called the conservative former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar a fascist, prompting Aznar’s successor, centre-left Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, to demand “respect” for a politician elected by Spaniards.

When Chavez would not keep silent and listen to Zapatero, King Juan Carlos, visibly annoyed, barked, “But why won’t you shut up?”

The monarch’s remark is by now a catchphrase in the Spanish - speaking world, echoed in cell-phone ringtones and countless jokes. Indeed, King Juan Carlos - with decades-long experience at international forums and no past history of out-of-order comments reacted in a way that seemed natural to many.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel was careful to point out in an interview with DPA Sunday, Chavez was a leftist populist who does not speak for everyone in Latin America.

Just hours later, Chavez retorted on his Sunday evening television programme, Alo Presidente, that Merkel belonged to the political right, “the same right that supported Hitler - fascism”.

Chavez has repeatedly clashed with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and with summit host Peruvian President Alan Garcia, among others.

He also has, however, a loyal posse in presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

Most Latin American leaders do not fall into either camp, but Chavez often pushes others to take sides - either based on his abundant oil wealth, the controversial nature of his comments or the kernels of truth that form the undertones of his aggressive rhetoric.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for one, has clashed with his Venezuelan colleague over biofuels.

Yet, the internationally respected Lula, who last year hosted both Bush and Pope Benedict XVI, visited Venezuela in his first trip outside Brazil after being re-elected president, and he recently described Chavez as the best president Venezuela has had in 100 years.

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox (2000-2006) publicly clashed with Chavez during and after the Americas Summit held in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata in late 2005. Chavez called Fox a “puppy” of the empire, referring to the US, and both countries withdrew their ambassadors.

Things have quietened down however under Fox’s successor Felipe Calderon.

Some accused then-Argentine president Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007), whose wife Cristina Fernandez currently occupies the presidency, of having neglected his duties as host by allowing Chavez too much influence in Mar del Plata.

But both Kirchner and Lula were probably not unhappy to have someone else do their dirty work in expressing a clear opposition to the proposal, backed by the US and Mexico, among others, for a Free-Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Chavez’s approach to diplomacy differs from that of most other world leaders. It includes personal attacks and a dose of wit that carries his messages home and “sells” summits in the media.

But it also holds room for coups de theatre, as was apparent in March in Santo Domingo.

On that occasion, Chavez, Correa and Uribe had exchanged insults and other harsh words during the run-up to the summit.

Towards the end of the gathering Dominican President Leonel Antonio Fern

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