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Hurricane Hugo and Typhoon Mahmoud

By Rodrigo Acuña - posted Wednesday, 28 November 2007


There are some cities where the Venezuelan Head of State, Hugo Chávez, can travel and be greeted warmly. Havana is one, Buenos Aires another. But in Santiago, Chávez makes Chilean President Michelle Bachelet rather nervous - often with good reason, given her country's close ties to Washington.

And his performance at last week's 17th Ibero-American Summit, held in Santiago, was classic Chávez - passionate, over the top and slightly embarrassing.

Singing one of his favourite Mexican ballads - No soy monedita de oro, pa' caerles bien a todos, ("I am not a little gold coin who can please everyone") - as he arrived at dawn in Santiago, he told reporters he was "very happy to be in the land of Allende".

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Chávez commended the accords achieved at the Summit, and promoted his country's regional projects such as the Bank of the South, PetroSur and the Latin American trade agreement known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the America's (ALBA).

Argentina's outgoing President Néstor Kirchner criticised certain Spanish firms' unfair contracts with his country; while Nicaragua's Head of State, Daniel Ortega, condemned the Spanish electrical company Unión FENOSA for its poor labour standards. Tensions were also evident when Bolivian President Evo Morales made calls for the abandonment of neo-liberal policies, to which the Spanish Prime Minster José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero responded that the management of certain sectors of the economy did not necessarily prove any ideological positions.

For Morales - whose country, in the last decade, has been ravaged by market fundamentalism to the extent where even collecting rain water was illegal since it too was privatised - Zapatero's comments must have been distasteful. And was the Spaniard just scoring debating points with his comment about the origins of the Enlightenment and that "even Carlos Marx was European"?

But then it was Chávez's turn to join in the denunciations.

Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, the President of Spain's main business lobby CEOE, had earlier expressed concern over Venezuela's judicial system. Chávez accused him and the old political Right in Spain of supporting the April 2002 coup in Venezuela - and then made the same charge against ex-Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar calling him a "fascist" and guilty of "selling Washington's discourse".

Chávez, of course, has every right to denounce Aznar's past actions and recent comments. After all, the Ambassadors of Madrid and Washington were the only ones who recognised the legitimacy of business leader, Pedro Carmona, who illegally declared himself the Head of State during a 36-hour coup d'état in 2002, while close to 100 civilians - overwhelmingly Chavistas - were killed.

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But the Venezuelan could have formally asked incumbent Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero to launch an investigation into the past actions of Aznar. Instead, Chávez plunged into what looked like a rabid tirade against an old (and absent) rival.

When Zapatero responded that, whatever Aznar's past or recent actions, he had been the democratically elected Prime Minister of Spain and deserved some level of respect, Chávez's constant interruptions fed the media stereotype of him as a bully. And when Spain's King Juan Carlos bluntly told Chávez to "shut up", the Venezuelan looked anything but sharp.

In recent months, Hugo Chávez has looked similarly ham-fisted in his relationship with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with one crucial exception: it has nothing to do with heat-of-the-moment remarks.

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First published in New Matilda on November 19, 2007.



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About the Author

Rodrigo Acuña is a PhD candidate in International Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. A recipient of Benchmark Prize in Hispanic Studies by the University of New South Wales, he was also runner up for Open Prose in the Unsweetened 2007 Literary Journal. He writes regularly on Latin American affairs and has presented seminars at various Australian universities on political developments in Venezuela, as well as other Latin American countries.

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