November 12, 2007
Ignoring King Juan Carlos of Spain's advice, Venezuela's outspoken president went on and on.
Latin America and Spain buzzed Sunday at the unprecedented move by Spain's King Juan Carlos to tell Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to ''shut up'' at a regional presidential summit on Saturday.
But Chávez on Sunday showed no signs of shutting up, instead demanding to know whether the king had supported the short-lived coup attempt against Chávez in 2002.
''Mr. King, did you know about the coup d'etat against Venezuela, against the democratic, legitimate government of Venezuela in 2002?'' Chávez asked. ``It's very hard to imagine the Spanish ambassador would have been at the presidential palace supporting the coup plotters without authorization from His Majesty.''
Chávez has a long history of ripping others, calling President Bush ''the devil'' a year ago at the United Nations, in perhaps the most notorious example.
But the clash comes at an especially volatile time in Venezuela. Chávez is facing a student-led challenge to his Dec. 2 public referendum to have the Constitution modified to allow him to seek reelection indefinitely and to be given powers to suspend the rights of citizens during emergencies.
With polls showing him likely to win, supporters of Chávez are believed to be behind the gunfire that wounded several anti-Chávez students at the University of Central Venezuela in Caracas on Thursday. Many fear more violence is likely in the coming days.
Given that backdrop, newspapers throughout Latin America on Sunday published front-page stories of the king taking offense at Chávez during Saturday's 17th Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile. The summit, featuring the leaders of Latin America, Spain and Portugal, focuses on regional development issues.
' `Shut up!' the king shouted at Chávez,'' blared the headline in Colombia's El Tiempo.
Like other newspapers throughout Latin America, El Tiempo published a front-page photo of King Juan Carlos turning to his left and raising his left hand in exasperation as he told Chávez several seats away to stop trying to interrupt Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
It was the most-read online story Sunday in Argentina's Clarín newspaper, for example, and was the subject of heated comments on newspaper blogs throughout the region and Spain.
In their online versions Sunday, many Spanish and Latin American newspapers posted a one-minute video of the spat. It occurred while the socialist Rodríguez Zapatero was admonishing Chávez for calling Rodríguez Zapatero's conservative predecessor, José María Aznar, a ''fascist'' several times during the summit.
Chávez tried to interrupt Rodríguez Zapatero four times before King Juan Carlos broke in.
''Why don't you just shut up?'' the king told Chávez.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet then tried to quiet Chávez, but the Venezuelan president interrupted once again to call Aznar a ''fascist'' one more time.
Rodríguez Zapatero then took Chávez to task for being disrespectful, and when he had finished his comments, the room burst into applause.
King Juan Carlos stormed out of the hall and returned only after Bachelet beseeched him to do so, news reports said. Spain's El País quoted analysts saying that they had never seen the king so angry in public before.
Chávez's legion of critics in Venezuela cheered on King Juan Carlos on Sunday.
''Chávez is a despot who thinks he can say and do what he wants,'' said Germán Carrera, a noted Venezuelan historian. ``Obviously, he was wrong in this case. The king showed that Chávez had crossed a line. But when challenged like that, Chávez reacts in an aggressive manner.''
Indeed, Chávez was not unrepentant on Sunday as he met with reporters upon leaving his Santiago hotel, but he sought to put King Juan Carlos on the defensive.
''We've been here 500 years, and we've never shut up, much less at the request of a monarch,'' he said.