Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The fortunes of the King of Spain

AOG, Madrid

The King of Spain is very much in the news these days. Poor Juan Carlos has had a very rough year.

First, his daughter-in-law’s sister killed herself. Then, a few months later, some politicians began to demand that the Royal finances be audited.

Then, a satirical magazine (a bit more acidic than MAD, but along those juvenile lines), publishes a cover of Crown Prince Felipe doing his wife. A judge withdrew all copies from newsstands and sparked off a national debate regarding the image of the King, the Crown, and the Royal family. Most politicians did not back the judges move.

Later on, a few hooligans in Catalonia burnt a photograph of the King and a new debate started when a judge asked a photo journalist to turn in the negatives so as to prosecute the people who did the burning. Again, national outcry from some sectors regarding freedom of speech.

Then, a very popular right-wing radio network began to demand that the King step down and for Spain to turn into a republic.

As if that were not enough, the President of the Community of Madrid, asked the King publicly not to be too harsh on the main culprit over the airwaves, a certain Mr. Jimenez Losantos.

The King went on to ask publicly that the Royal family be respected by the media. The Spanish were slightly bemused, but the British were surprised that the King would do such a thing. Queen Elizabeth would not ever do that. But then again, the British Royals were not ousted from power in 1931 and Britain did not go through a Civil War 5 years later.

In a sort of PR coup, the Government decides to send to King to Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish cities in North Africa bordering Morocco. What was meant to be an internal affair turned into a diplomatic crisis when Morocco withdrew its Ambassador from Madrid, and protested publicly accusing Spain of colonialism and equating the status of those two cities to Palestine.

But here things began to take a turn for the better. As has been many times the case, Africa proved to be a turning point in Spanish affairs.

The Royal couple’s tour of the cities was a great national success. The locals were head over heels with the King and Queen.

Then silence, and it appeared that things would turn to normal.


Along came the XII Summit of Iberoamerican leaders in Santiago, Chile.

As it came to a close, the Spanish Prime Minister suddenly found himself and his predecesor under verbal attack from the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. Spain's President tried to defend his predecessor's Administration but the Venezuelan chief was not having it. He accused him of being a Fascist, etc etc etc. Basically, he was not allowing President Zapatero speak. Half way through this, King Juan Carlos flew of the handle and told Chávez to shut up.

Literally, what he said was "¿Por qué no te callas?" "Why won't you shut up?". The King was not happy, especially after Nicaragua's President Ortega went off about how Spanish investement in his country was bad, etc etc etc. The King got up and left, only coming back after Chilean President Bachelet asked him to.

Well, of course, it hit the headlines all over the Spanish-speaking world, and then some. Even the BBC carried the story. All through this week, President Chávez has been intent on continuing his diatribe against Spain, the King, the Spanish, basically, everyone and everything Spanish. Obviously his pride has been hurt.

He has accused the King of knowing there was going to be a Coup against him (ironic since Mr. Chávez himself staged 2 coups before being voted into power), he has accused the Spanish of cutting the Indian's throat to silence them (From Imperial Madrid the order was issued ....blah blah blah).

He has accused Spain of behaving like an imperialist power (maybe this is the only true thing he has said thus far), but nonetheless, it is the worst case of post-colonial tantrum I have seen in a while.

Needless to say, most Latin American leaders (who are as left leaning as Spain's premier), have come to the support of the King. Even Castro has not spoken out against Spain.

Ironically, Spain's opposition party have not, eventhough the man Zapatero was defending originally, ex president Aznar, a Bush ally, was from that party. He even called the President and (purportedly) the King, to thank them for their support. All very gentlemanly.

Nonetheless, Chávez has continued. The news hit that he was planning on syphoning off Venezuela's oil through Portugal.

As if things could not get worse for the King, his daughter (above) announced on Tuesday the 13th (as opposed to Friday the 13th, Tuesday is the unlucky day in Spain), his daughter Princess Elena announced that she and her husband the Duke of Lugo, were separating.

On a brighter note, after this Spanish "annus horribilis", the whole Chávez incident has made the King quite popular in Spain once again.

For the first time ever, a Spanish person defended a fellow citizen in an international forum.

I think, long term, it will be good for Spain. Hopefully, for Venezuela too...

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