Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Por que no te callas?"

There was some Spanish-speaking-countries meeting in Chili a couple of weeks ago. The Ibero-American Summit. Hugo Chavez, dictator of Venezuela ... what? ... he's not a dictator, you dogmatically assert? He was duly elected? Carter endorsed the election? My poor, simple child. How you amuse me with your boundless faith. If we ignore the outright cheating of Chavez's self-election, there is still the bothersome fact that he has announced that he will scrap the Venezuelan constitution in order to stay in office beyond the allotted two terms. Prick.

So, as I was saying before your interruption, they were all having this meeting? And Chavez is interrupting and bullying and making long pointless diatribes and flicking bits of flaked-off skin at dignitaries and digging in his nose and masturbating under the table and just generally making himself a real Castro. Then he starts bad-mouthing ousted Spanish PM Aznar for having been an ally of the US. Aznar is a "fascist" and "less human than snakes!" fulminates the Supreme Dicpotato of Venezuela. This prompts Aznar's very bitter rival and political replacement, Jose Luis Zapatero, to defend him, only to be continually interrupted again and again by Chavez.

Finally some old dude leans forward and says in a clear, strong voice, "Why don't you shut yourself up?"

Shortly afterwards, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua -- that's the same revolutionary Ortega, we may remember, whose Sandinistas ruined Central America in the '80s -- accused Spain of meddling in Nicaragua's elections. At which point that old dude finally gets up and walks out. These Americans, you know. No class.

But hearing the exchange, and seeing PM Zapatero and his decency, and hearing his passionate conviction, I felt a profound respect for him. And seeing King Juan Carlos bear it until he can bear no more, at which point he has to excuse himself or lose his dignity -- well, he has dignity, to lose.

From the mid-ish 1930s until 1975 Spain was ruled by General Franco. Pretty repressive. Who knows, maybe Spain needed it. Tumultuous decades. Planning for his succession, Franco handpicked the grandson of deposed King Alfonso XIII to act as royal head of state. King Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias. He's also King of Jerusalem and Byzantine Emperor. Certain cretin elements of the anti-Illuminati claim he's the anti-Christ. Well, nobody's perfect.

Spain kept its fledgling democratic institutions until 1981, when Franco's reactionary rightist adherents among the Falangist party mounted a coup. Hostages in the parliament building, expectations that the military would support their revolution. Nope. King Juan Carlos refused to flee, refused to capitulate. This, if you don't recognize it, is real courage. Patriotism and courage. It's not like the Bourbons have always had great success, in revolutions. The king phoned up the various military commanders, demanding, commanding their loyalty, to himself and to Spanish democracy. Then he got on television and called for order. It need not have happened -- but he won. That's who Juan Carlos is. Even the head of the communist party said, "God save the King."

The internal politics of foreign nations are their own affair. We'd like to see the rule of law and the honoring of human rights, but it is the nature of sovereignty that these things generally must tend to themselves. Sometimes the crimes become too horrifying, and the blood of the innocent cries out too plaintively, and our conscience torments us if we fail to act. Sometimes we choose to suffer the torments of our conscience. There is no formula for peace. So when some petty dictator bullies and thumps, we will make of it what we will.

I know hardly anything about Juan Carlos. I don't know if he's noble or not. I do know that with privilege comes responsibility. And I know that when it mattered, Juan Carlos showed courage and saved his country from being just another latin dictatorship. And I know he's provided a rallying cry for the Sean Pennesque banana republic of Venezuela, where El Jefe's opposition has a new slogan: "Why don't you shut up?" For this if for nothing else, I will join with the communists of a previous generation, and with the leftist PM Zapatero today, and say, "God save the King."



brent said...

I think he said "calla." Maybe it would have been better if he'd just said, "callate la boca!" But since he didn't, it reenforces your point.

Jack H said...

My sources have "callas" -- which if my low-intermediate Spanish is right, is the familiar verb form -- what you'd use with children or social inferiors.

Best would have been " boca grande" -- a phrase I used with my students on more than one occastion.


brent said...

I figured it was regional dialect. Puerto Rico for example will often drop the s. I was trying to listen to the source but it was a quick burst in the recording and the ending probably trailed off.