Wednesday, November 24, 2004

WEIRDER and weirder:
Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos of Spain came under fire from his conservative opponents on Tuesday for suggesting that Spain's previous government supported the coup in 2002 that briefly knocked President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela from power.

In a television program broadcast Monday night, Moratinos said that "during the last government, the Spanish ambassador received instructions to support the coup, something unknown in Spanish diplomacy, something that will not happen again in the future."

Chávez, who is in the middle of a state visit to Madrid, fell from power for 48 hours in April of 2002 after a military uprising that followed popular unrest in the streets of Caracas.

Moratinos' comments provoked an angry response on Tuesday from members of the Spain's main opposition group, the Popular Party, which was in power during the coup in Venezuela.

Mariano Rajoy, the party's president, demanded that Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero deny the claim made by Moratinos.

"We cannot go another minute without the government correcting the minister," Rajoy said.

Rajoy also questioned Moratinos' "fitness for taking on this high responsibility" of being foreign minister, and suggested that he should be replaced. "This incident is just another consequence of this government's erratic foreign policy," he said.

Chávez, who has previously accused Spain and the United States of supporting the coup against him, spoke on Tuesday in defense of Moratinos's account.

"I have no doubts that it was true," he told reporters in Madrid.

Chávez said that the Spanish ambassador to Venezuela at the time, Manuel Viturro, paid a visit to Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessman named interim president, while Chávez was under arrest.

Chávez said that was a clear gesture of Spanish support for the coup.

An official in Zapatero's office said that the prime minister had no plans to remove Moratinos or to distance himself from his comments. "The facts support what he said," the official asserted. "The government of Aznar did not condemn the coup."
I don't really have the means to know whether it's true that the Aznar administration backed the coup or not, but I suspect it didn't. Why I'm saying this? Well, for starters, because at that time Spain's government issued a coordinated institutional response with the rest of the EU members. But, more importantly, because Chavez, whatever he's saying now, then positively said that Spain hadn't supported the coup, and Felipe Gonzalez, the Socialist Prime Minister before Aznar (1982-1996) was more sympathetic to the coup than Aznar himself (see this link in Spanish). In fact, some in the Socialist party, and the pro-Socialist newspaper El Pais, were harsher towards Chavez (link in French) than Aznar's PP, maybe because Felipe Gonzalez is a close friend of anti-Chavez tycoon Gustavo Cisneros, allegedly behind the coup according to some observers. In fact Cisneros had made extremely profitable business in Spain, when he bought for pocketchange the Galerias Preciados chain of department stores which had been expropiated from a local businessman by the Socialist government, and flipped it a couple of years later for a massive profit.

But I digress. My point is that up to now, it's impossible to know for sure if the allegation that Aznar backed the coup against Chavez is true or not; the Popular Party (Aznar's) flatly denies it (though let me tell you I'd be happier with Aznar, and his party's current leadership, if they had supported a coup against an undemocratic thug). The amazing thing is that the allegation made by Moratinos, the current Foreign Minister -well known for his 'difficult' relationship with reality- was unsupported by documents and facts; it was an allegation made in the heat of a debate on state TV in a very excited, nervous way, almost shouting.

After the controversy erupted, Zapatero was yesterday in a joint press conference with Chavez and tried to dodge the issue, referring the reporters questioning him about this to the announced appearance of Moratinos in Parliament to explain the affair (maybe they can call Dan Rather to learn a thing or two about fabricating documents to support a wild allegation). Zapatero answered, "well, I won't go into this now; as you'll understand, this is not the moment to speak about this, it would be disrespecful to my guest if we discussed now an internal matter" (yeah, what an odd moment to answer the allegations of your country's participation in a coup against a foreign leader, precisely when that foreign leader is standing at your side, eh?).

But the main issue is not whether this allegation is true or not. Obviously it's much, much worse if it isn't. But even if it's true, it's bad enough: it really shows a deep disloyalty to the the democratic institutions as a whole, which include keeping state secrets, well, secret, at least for a certain amount of time, and showing some respect towards your predecessors in office. This is no way to deal with such a delicate issue, during a TV talk show and specially not when the foreing leader involved is visiting the country.

It really tells more about Mr Moratinos' character than anything else; it's so undiplomatic that it shows that the guy is absolutely unqualified to be the Foreign Minister of a modern, democratic country (but hey, maybe we aren't anymore!). One wonders how he behaved all these years as the European Union's special envoy to the Middle East. Maybe that's why there's no peace over there yet.