Politics & Policy

Muy Mal

Spain's Zapatero hangs with the wrong crowd.

Over the past two years, Spanish prime minister Luís Rodríguez Zapatero has cultivated a number of strange and dangerous friendships that may have far-reaching international consequences.

It all started with Zapatero’s rejecting George W. Bush and instead embracing John Kerry after the American presidential election of 2004. Then he volunteered to help Gerhard Schröder in his reelection bid, seeming only to speed along the German prime minister’s demise. Now French prime minister Jacques Chirac, traditionally regarded as Zapatero’s chief European ally, already has a foot in his political grave.

So, with his fortunes diminished in Europe, Zapatero has turned to Latin America — and, once again, is making bad choices.

First up for courtship was Fidel Castro, at whose behest Zapatero helped ease the European Union sanctions imposed on Cuba. Cuban political prisoners were supposed to be freed in exchange, but of course they have continued rotting in jail. Next came Hugo Chávez, the tin-pot tyrant with oil from Venezuela. Zapatero promised him everything he wanted, including the sale of much-coveted “pacific weapons,” which, as was soon demonstrated, Zapatero was actually in no position to sell.

Still, in response to Zapatero’s warm overtures, Chávez arrived in Spain to a triumphant reception organized by the ministry of foreign affairs. Unsurprisingly, the Spanish government was soon embarrassed when Venezuela granted citizenship and substantial economic aid to four terrorists from ETA, the violent Basque separatist group in northern Spain.

Then there was Evo Morales, the striped-sweater-wearing, hard-core socialist demagogue president of Bolivia. Exalted by the ministry of foreign affairs, invited to Madrid and treated like royalty, Morales promised Zapatero stability for all Spanish investments in Boliva. Then, less than 24 hours later, he nationalized his country’s energy industry and placed a fortune’s worth of private Spanish assets under state control.

The managers at the Spanish oil company Repsol can tell how their offices were seized, how they were arrested, and how their pleas for help were rebuffed by Moncloa (the Spanish prime minister’s office). In the same fashion, Zapatero convened a breakfast meeting in Argentina with a group of Spanish businessmen where he told them that he would not stick up for their interests in their disputes with the Argentine government. Believe me when I tell you that it was the most expensive breakfast those businessmen have ever had.

Looking at how Zapatero’s supposed allies have treated him in Latin America, it is not strange that he has been working overtime in his diplomatic efforts with the government of Turkey. Out of that odd relationship, he has at least gotten the only explicit support for his phantasmagoric proposal known as “The Alliance of Civilizations.” What is left to see is what Zapatero will say to the Turks when his European friends declare that Turkey has no chance of joining the European Union — none whatsoever. By now, he should be used to disappointment at the hands of his “friends.”

– Rafael L. Bardají is a fellow at the Strategic Studies Group (GEES) in Madrid, and a senior adviser to the former president, José María Aznar. A version of this article was originally published in Expansión and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

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