Spain King and Chavez seek to cast aside differences

25th July 2008, Comments 0 comments

King Juan Carlos and President Hugo Chavez will meet on Friday to resume diplomatic relations following ‘shut up’ incident.

25 July 2008

MADRID - Some nervousness was still evident a day before President Hugo Chavez's visit with King Juan Carlos on Friday after the infamous "shut up" incident in 2007 at an Iberoamerican summit in Santiago, Chile.

The summit ended in acrimony when Spain's king asked Chavez "why don't you shut up?" after the Venezuelan head of state had interrupted Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero several times during his speech.

The affair led to a freeze in diplomatic relations between Madrid and Caracas. Relations between both countries, however, took a turn for the better in May, when Chavez asked Zapatero to say hello to his "old friend" King Juan Carlos at the close of an EU-Latin American summit in Lima.

"I am very glad to meet with the prime minister again," said Chavez. "We can say that starting today we are resuming the excellent relations we always had with the Spanish government."

Despite the thaw, the biggest concern of Spanish protocol chiefs organising the visit at the royal summer residence in Majorca, is that they simply do not know what Chavez will say when he poses with the king in front of the cameras.

The Venezuelan president's weekly television programme Aló presidente! did not give any clues.

He said that he did not know whether he would give King Juan Carlos a hug or shake his hand.

After the Santiago spat, Chavez never received a formal apology from the king as he had demanded on a number of occasions. Even though both countries have attempted to get the maximum political mileage at home from the affair, Spanish diplomatic sources state that the incident was "unfortunate".

They claim the incident would never have taken place if Chilean President Michelle Bachelet had intervened and asked Chavez to stop interrupting Zapatero.

Even though the king and Chavez have not met face to face since the Santiago summit, they have exchanged messages through intermediaries.

In any case, the Spanish government wishes Friday's meeting to be the important first step to resolve the diplomatic row before the next Iberoamerican summit takes place at the end of October in El Salvador.

If the monarch and Chavez agree to set aside their differences in Majorca, Zapatero will hold a luncheon meeting with the Venezuelan head of state together with both countries' foreign and industry ministers.

Chavez's visit to Spain is part of a European tour that has taken him to Russia, Belarus and Portugal. Portuguese energy company Galp and PdVSA of Venezuela recently signed multi-billion-dollar energy accords. In Moscow Chavez expressed interest in purchasing arms and strengthening relations with Russia.

[El Pais / Miguel Gonzalez / Expatica]

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