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Flamenco, Aznar and good behaviour: Gaddafis Spanish visit

When the Libyan leader came to Spain in 2007, there were fears he would severely embarrass the Socialist government. But while Zapatero faced criticism for welcoming Gaddafi, the guest created more of a stir with his personal quirks than his public comments.

When Moammar Gaddafi made a visit to Spain at the end of 2007, the Socialist government of Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero faced fierce criticism from various groups for not taking a tough stance against the Libyan leaders human rights record. Following Gaddafis controversial visit that year from December 15-18, the US Embassy gave Washington a full report of the Libyan strongmans activities in Spain, including details of his eccentricities.

Gaddafi arrived with a huge entourage, including a motorcade of over 50 vehicles and his own butchers, and staked his tents on the grounds of his accommodations all in preparation to sign a string of lucrative economic deals with the Socialist government.

In a cable to Washington, released by Wikileaks, US Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre noted that Gaddafi, sporting scraggly, dyed black hair and sparse mustache and goatee had arrived in Seville on the Saturday for a personal visit before his official schedule was to begin.

It was expected that Qadhafi would tour historic Islamicsites in the Andalucia region or go hunting in the foothillsof the Sierra Nevada. However, unexpectedly, he left Seville on Sunday to visit Marbella on the coast, where he reportedly enjoyed a flamenco performance and paid an extravagant amount to have the performers give a repeat performance later in Madrid.

The US ambassador reported in his January 14, 2008 cable that Gaddafi invited former Prime Minister Jos Mara Aznar and his wife Ana Botella, the Madrid city environmental commissioner, to dine with him. Aznar was one of the first European leaders to welcome Gaddafi back from the cold by visiting him in 2003 after UN sanctions were lifted.

Gaddafi was also wined and dined by Zapatero and members of the prime ministers Cabinet, and lunched earlier in the day with King Juan Carlos. It was noted that King Juan Carlos was gracious and polite, but seemed to have little patience for Qadhafi’s quirkiness, Aguirre said. But his visit was a headache for theForeign Ministry.

Ministry contacts confided to embassy officials that the schedule was a planning nightmare, with the Spanish protocol staff bearing the brunt of constant changes and demands from the estimated 350-person Qadhafientourage that filled three Afriqiyah Airline planes, the ambassador wrote.

There had been concern among ministry officials that potential Qadhafi outrageous statements or behavior might open the government to strong criticism, but it seemed that Qadhafi got all the vitriol out of his system during his prior stay in Paris.

French fiasco

The year before, Gaddafis visit had turned into a nightmare for French President Nicolas Sarkozy when the Libyan leader was questioned about human rights in his country.

“Human rights are not an issue,” Gaddafi told France 2 television. “Libya has never committed a terrorist act,” the New York Times quoted him as saying. Later, in a speech, he even questioned France. Before talking about human rights, you should be sure that immigrants all enjoy these rights in your country.”

Even though the human rights issue was avoided at an official level in Spain, some sectors questioned the Spanish governments ignorance of Gaddafis record, including the United Left IU coalition and the leading Spanish daily El Pas, which criticised the Zapatero governments big welcome.

“Gaddafis visit goes against the governments declared principles on foreign policy. No matter how succulent the economic deal might be, the effect of this contradiction for democracy in Africa is devastating,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

The Embassy reported: Counteracting the initial negative press, Qadhafi spoke out against terrorism during his visit, citing the commonality of interests between Spain and Libya. He also called for action to end illegal migration flows through increased investment in Africa to address economic and social problems.

Indeed, the deals were lucrative. Spain and Libya signed a series of memos of understanding on defence, economic cooperation and investment. At the time Spain estimated that Spanish trade and investment with Libya could increase by 17 billion 2 billion in thedefence and aeronautical industries, 5 billion in the energy sector, and 10 billion in infrastructure.

Dishevelled, but communicative

But US diplomats seemed more focused on Gaddafis state of mind and appearance.

While Qadhafi’s appearance was disheveled and his face, in photographs, seemed swollen and with limited range of motion, Spanish Foreign Ministry officials who saw him during meetings said that he was able to communicate effectively and his health appeared stable.

Ambassador Aguirre reported that he later quizzed the ministrys North Africa Deputy Director General Manuel Gmez-Acebo as to why the unpredictable Gaddafi behaved himself during his Spanish visit. Gmez-Acebo offered three theories. First, the Spanish diplomat thought Gaddafi was “enchanted” by Spain, its Moorishheritage and Aznar’s earlier warm visit. He also speculated that Gaddafi got any vitriol out of his system during his visit to France and that Libyan advisers had asked him to tone down his statements after the negative remarks to the French press.

The third reason, Gmez-Acebo said, was the speculation that Qadhafi was always unpredictable, and it was just luck that his visit to Spain ended smoothly, despite all the logistical complications behind the scenes.

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