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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 16:13 GMT
Chavez refuses to be silenced
By Martin Murphy
BBC Americas analyst

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

The Ibero-American summit in Chile would have been just another meeting of heads of state had it not been for the spat between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the Spanish king.

The summit had received little coverage in the regional and Spanish media until the video of the argument was posted online and shown on television.

King Juan Carlos carried some responsibility for the affair, but it was Mr Chavez who set the ball in motion by calling the former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a fascist.

Labelling a Spanish prime minister a fascist carries a serious undertone in Spain, considering the country's bloody civil war and General Franco's 36-year-long military rule that followed.

The row made headlines in Spain and most newspapers highlighted the fact that the king had told Mr Chavez to shut up.

The Latin American press followed the same line, except for the official Venezuela daily, Diario Vea, which ignored the incident, and an article in Juventud Rebelde by Cuban leader Fidel Castro defending his close friend and ally Hugo Chavez.

Left-wing leaders

This is not the first time that Mr Chavez' outbursts at an international summit have overshadowed the issues being discussed.

Nicaragua President, Daniel Ortega (L), Bolivia President, Evo Morales (C) and Hugo Chavez (R)
Presidents Ortega and Morales are less vocal than Mr Chavez

Last year at the UN's General Assembly he called US President George W Bush "the devil".

None of the other left-wing leaders in Latin America - despite their ideological affinities with Mr Chavez - are as openly critical and controversial as the Venezuelan president.

In the video, Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is also a key ally of Mr Chavez, pokes his head out from the end of the table when the row breaks out, but does not intercede.

Neither does the Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, who later used his speech to attack Spanish companies doing business in Latin America.

It is interesting to imagine what Mr Castro would have said had he been present at the summit.

No other leader in Latin America except Mr Castro - who has temporarily stepped down as head of state due to his frail health - matches the outspokenness of the Venezuelan president.

Mr Chavez, Mr Morales and Mr Ortega later took part in a people's summit in Santiago, where the Venezuelan president defended his right to criticise Mr Aznar and again attacked the Spanish king.

Business as usual

For a president whose role model is the Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar it was particularly ignominious that a Spanish king treated him like a schoolboy.

Mr Zapatero (l) and King Juan Carlos in Santiago, 10 November 2007
King Juan Carlos (right) and PM Zapatero defended Mr Aznar

Not only has Mr Chavez now told the king to shut up in return, he suggested that perhaps he knew about the 2002 coup that briefly toppled him - the same accusation he threw at Mr Aznar.

But the row is unlikely to hurt relations between the Venezuelan and Spanish governments.

It was an ideological confrontation, not a political one.

Spain is one of the biggest investors in Venezuela, especially in the financial and energy fields.

In 2006, more than 50% of the foreign investment in Venezuela came from Spanish firms.

And business, not ideology, tends to regulate international affairs.

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