Sunday, November 18, 2007

Annus horribilis for the Spanish Royal Family


I don't believe the Spanish Royal Family has been in the news this much since 2004, the year Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia got married . Unfortunately, this year it's been mostly bad news. The latest - Princess Elena has separated from her husband, Duke Jaime de Marichalar. This is the first official separation of a royal couple in Spanish history.
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The bad news began early in the year with Prince Felipe's sister-in-law committing suicide in February. In July, Felipe and Letiza's became the brunt of jokes when the satirical magazine El Jueves put a cartoon of the royal couple having sex on its front cover. In October a few Catalan nationalists who want independence from Spain burned the King's photograph at a public rally in the town of Girona during a royal visit. Then in early November, Morocco temporarily recalled its ambassador from Madrid to protest the King and Queen's trip to Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish possessions (usually referred to as "enclaves") on the North African coast.
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Of course, the biggest headlines were caused by King Juan Carlos' telling President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, "Why don't you shut up?!" at the recent Ibero-American Summit -- and the resulting tension between Spain and Venezuela continues to make news over a week later. I think the Economist described the incident well in an article entitled, "The king was not amused":
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"It is a routine. Every time that Latin American leaders get together at a regional summit, the headlines are stolen by Venezuela's outspoken leftist leader, Hugo Chávez. But at the Ibero-American summit in Chile's capital, Santiago, Mr Chávez got some help from an unusual quarter, Spain's King Juan Carlos."
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The YouTube video of the incident became immensely popular in Spain. Within a day or so there were novelty songs playing on the radio, t-shirts emblazoned with the quote and mobile phones ringing out with loops of the king shouting, "¿Por qué no te callas?"..."¿Por qué no te callas?"..."¿Por qué no te callas?" Apparently there is even a paso doble version!
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Over a week later the incident is still making news and a ripple effect is being felt. To paraphrase the Los Angeles Times, the king's words seem to have started a battle royal.
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The funny thing is that this violation of protocol by the usually calm and controlled king may have actually increased his popularity at home. Initially the Spanish press generally supported him. With the diplomatic tension continuing and Chavez threatening to review Spanish businesses operating in Venezuela, more editorials are reflecting on the possible costs of the king's words. Still, from what I can tell many Spaniards seem to believe that, as impolitic as it may have been, the king was simply standing up to a boorish demagogue and probably expressing what many of the summit's attendees wanted to say.
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There is still a month and a half to go until 2008, so who knows what else may befall the Spanish royal family before the end of the year. Whatever else happens, I think the king's annual Christmas speech may be a little more interesting than usual. I'll definitely tune in for it.
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Chao amig@s,
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Carloz

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