WHY CHAVEZ'S SPAT WITH THE KING OF SPAIN SHOULD NOT SUPRISE ANYBODY
What’s more, after having covered dozens of these regional summits, I would have been surprised if the Venezuelan president had not picked a fight with Spain.
Chavez, as you know, interrupted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero several times while the latter was addressing the summit, shouting - while his microphone was turned off - that former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar was a “fascist.” When Spain’s leftist Prime Minister Zapatero, a strong foe of Aznar’s, protested that Aznar had been elected by the Spanish people, and Chavez continued interrupting him pressing on the same issue, a visibly exasperated king shouted to Chavez, “Por que no te callas?,” - “Why don’t you just shut up.”
There are several reasons why this behavior by Chavez should not come as a surprise.
First, Chavez needed to divert attention from the escalating student protests in Venezuela, and the bloody government repression of peaceful demonstrators. Dozens of Venezuelan students were injured last week, many of them by masked gunmen widely believed to be government-backed urban militias, while they were protesting Chavez’s call for a national referendum Dec. 2.
The government-organized referendum seeks to approve constitutional reforms that would among other things allow Chavez to be re-elected indefinitely, appoint his own caretakers in states now ruled by opposition governors, and end with the autonomy of the Central Bank. (Chavez is also offering, as a sweetener to get his reforms approved, to reduce the workday from 8 to 6 hours - an offer that will be hard to resist by millions of Venezuelan workers.)
In addition, Venezuela’s narcissist-Leninist leader thrives on headlines, and the way he makes headlines - like Castro before him - is by picking fights with whoever is around whim who represents the world’s most developed country. In this case, it was Spain’s prime minister, and the Spanish king.
Chavez, like Castro, needs to create conflicts - with business leaders, with the Church, with the United States, with Spain, with whomever -- to create a climate of permanent confrontation that allows him to wrap himself in the national flag, and justify amassing extraordinary powers under the excuse that he is defending the fatherland. If there is no conflict, there is no justification for demanding increasingly wider powers that erode citizens’ basic rights.
Almost every year, when he attended these summits, Cuba’s Castro would grab the headlines by attacking the host country, or the United States, or Spain, or all of the above. Perhaps the only difference between Chavez and Castro is that, I don’t remember any instances in which the Cuban dictator would interrupt other speakers, and try to speak over them outside his allotted time. Chavez did it repeatedly at Saturday’s summit.
Chavez’s personality may be more rowdy than Castro’s, but the reason why his excesses have increased in recent months has to do with oil prices. Chavez’s megalomania, is directly proportional to the rise in oil prices.
When Chavez took office eight years ago, oil prices were at $9 dollars a barrel. Today, they are reaching a record $100 dollars a barrel. So nobody should be surprised either at the fact that Chavez interrupted a fellow head of state, nor by the way in which he did it. If oil prices keep climbing -- in part, thanks to massive U.S. purchases - he’s only going to get worse.