July 25, 2008
MADRID, Spain -- Hugo Chavez laughed and smiled his way through a hug-and-make-up visit to Spain on Friday, his first since a now-infamous exchange in which Spain's normally reserved monarch told the voluble Venezuelan leader to "shut up" at a summit in Chile last year.
Chavez arrived an hour late for an appointment at the king's summer residence on Mallorca where he was greeted by King Juan Carlos and Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos _ and watched by a mass of photographers and TV crews.
"Why don't we head for the beach?" Chavez joked with the king. The king smiled, shook hands and welcomed Chavez warmly.
After the breakfast meeting, Chavez flew to Madrid for talks with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The two leaders stressed that their relationship was renewed and that any past tension was behind them.
Zapatero said there had been a rapprochement between the countries, and highlighted the strong commercial links they share.
"We have come to extend the hand of friendship," Chavez said.
Chavez invited Spanish conglomerates such as Repsol to invest in new oil exploration projects. Commenting on the recent drop in global oil prices, Chavez said he expected prices eventually to level off at about US$100 a barrel.
The Venezuelan leader set the stage for the warm meeting last week, when he told his countrymen in a television address that he was ready to let bygones be bygones _ but joked that the king ought to know it is not in his nature to sit quietly.
"I would very much like to give the king a hug," Chavez said in his weekly show of his Spanish visit. "But you know, Juan Carlos, that I am not going to shut up."
Officially, Chavez's trip was billed as an opportunity to discuss bilateral relations _ but the agenda included plenty of awkward _ and sometimes funny _ references to last year's high-level diplomatic dustup.
The testy exchange with Juan Carlos occurred at a summit in the Chilean capital, Santiago, in November, when the Venezuelan leader repeatedly referred to former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as a fascist while seated in a panel next to the king and Zapatero.
After Chavez was warned repeatedly by both Juan Carlos and Zapatero to tone down his rhetoric, the king snapped: "Why don't you shut up?"
The exchange quickly made its way into newscasts and onto the Internet _ and was even marketed as a mobile phone ring tone in Spain.
At the time, Chavez demanded an apology, and threatened to freeze diplomatic relations _ but never did. On Friday, the Venezuelan leader was in a much lighter mood, joking during the news conference with Zapatero that the king owed him for all the publicity.
"The king owes me half the earnings on the copyright (on the telephone ring-tone)," he said. "The only thing is he didn't take the profits on it."
After the United States, Spain is perhaps the most influential country in Latin America, with billions invested throughout the continent, and the strained relations were a diplomatic embarrassment.
Spain had previously been on reasonably good relations with Chavez _ a major thorn in Washington's side.
Associated Press writer Harold Heckle contributed to this report from Madrid.