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Cablegate: Royal Smackdown of Chavez Meets with Spanish

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SP
SUBJECT: ROYAL SMACKDOWN OF CHAVEZ MEETS WITH SPANISH
PUBLIC APPROVAL

REF: A. SANTIAGO 1825

B. CARACAS 2187

1. (U) SUMMARY: Judging from the reaction in Spain, King
Juan Carlos seems to have been speaking for many when he
asked Venezuelan President Chavez to shut up at the
Iberoamerican Summit (ref a). His angry rebuke of Chavez has
gone over well with the Spanish public, and the recording of
it is reputedly the most popular cell phone ring tone
download in Spain. The Spanish Government, on the other
hand, is trying play down the story even while the opposition
Partido Popular is trying to take advantage of the incident
by suggesting it was a result of President Zapatero's weak
handling of Chavez. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The defining moment in Santiago continues to be
recycled in the Spanish media. Between the TV replays,
YOUTUBE, and the proliferation of related jokes and songs
making their rounds on the Internet, the Spanish Government
is, at least for now, fighting a losing battle in trying to
turn the corner on this one. The major dailies carried
front-page photos of the King gesturing angrily toward Chavez
earlier in the week. An editorial cartoon printed November
15 in independent daily El Mundo depicted a disgruntled
Chavez at a desk being asked by an open-mouthed globe, "why
don't you just shut up?" But while many Spaniards seem to
have enjoyed the news of the royal shushing -- and the
international spotlight for standing up to the Venezuelan --
the opposition Partido Popular has tried to make political
hay, insisting Spain recall its Ambassador to Venezuela, who
has not yet presented credentials. The Partido Popular has
also suggested that Zapatero is somehow to blame for Chavez's
behavior because his government has been tolerant of Chavez.
(Note: There is a certain irony here since the incident was
provoked when Chavez insulted former Spanish President Aznar
-- of the Partido Popular -- and Zapatero gamely rose to
Aznar's defense. It was apparently Chavez's interruptions of
Zapatero that finally snapped the King's patience. The press
has reported on Aznar's subsequent phone call to thank
Zapatero. End note.)

3. (U) Editorialists sympathetic to the Partido Popular have
cataloged the incident along with Spain's failure to win the
November 14 election to select the NATO Military Committee
chairman as yet another example of the Zapatero Government's
alleged incompetence in foreign affairs. There have also
been suggestions in the media that Zapatero was too gentle in
his handling of Chavez, while others have blamed him for
putting the King in such a position. A distinctly minority
view is that the King's outburst was a mistake because it
will merely serve as grist for Chavez's populist tactics.
The left-wing media, perhaps trying to burnish Zapatero's
handling of the summit, has reported that the King's
subsequent walk-out during Nicaraguan President Ortega's rant
about Spanish business and alleged Spanish interference in
his country's elections was orchestrated by the King and
Zapatero on the fly, with them agreeing that one needed to
make a gesture while the other stayed behind to hold the fort.

4. (U) Attempting to calm the situation, FM Moratinos has
publicly supported the King's words and actions while
attempting to tone down the dispute. Moratinos has said he
does not think the spat should affect Spanish-Venezuelan
relations and that he wanted dialogue with Venezuela to
continue, provided that Spain and its institutions were
respected. Addressing a Europa Press breakfast November 15,
Moratinos explained the government preferred not to recall
its Ambassador for consultations so as not to risk a negative
backlash against Spanish business and residents in Venezuela.
Moratinos told attendees that Spanish companies otherwise
critical of Chavez had asked Spain to remain calm in defense
of their interests and said an ambassador is most necessary
when things do not go well.

5. (SBU) Comment: This too will fade, although the King's
wonderfully succinct message to Chavez and the evident anger
with which it was delivered will not be forgotten. As the
Ambassador told the press (while declining to comment on
Venezuela or Chavez), Spain has a "rey de lujo" (luxury model
king). It seems most Spaniards would agree.
LLORENS

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