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Spain and Venezuela

Madrid’s offer to mediate in the electoral dispute between Maduro and Capriles merely invites scorn

Last week Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo vaguely alluded to the possibility of Spain's mediation in Venezuela between the Chavist government and the opposition, which has requested — uselessly, as they are aware enough — a recount in the recent presidential elections, narrowly won by the Chavist Nicolás Maduro.

Mediation was offered with the best of intentions, but was rejected, immediately and roughly, with coarse insults to Spanish democracy. The new Venezuelan president seems to need a diabolical foreign enemy to support the adversarial role he is trying hard to play: that of successor to the late Hugo Chávez. Yet the incident serves to illustrate how carefully Spain must tread in her relations with Latin America.

In all the Latin American countries, even the most pro-post-colonial, there is an anti-Spanish party, normally small but not without influence. And — after the Bolivia of Evo Morales, which abominates the Spanish conquest and all its legacy — there is no party like the Chavist one for touchy soreness toward the old colonial power. The blanket condemnation of all Spain's doings in America, on which Simon Bolívar harped tirelessly (and understandably, since a many-fronted war of independence was then on) was reproduced with great fidelity by Hugo Chávez, who claimed to be Bolívar's reincarnation, and now descends to Maduro, reincarnation of a reincarnation.

When you offer mediation, it is better to be sure of a friendly or at least a polite reception. In this case the furious answer — mind your own business — boots the offerer off the diplomatic field. Not only Spain comes in for the verbal boot, given that Maduro addresses similar terms to Peru and Colombia. Hugo Chávez administered insults with more precision. What is crystal-clear, however, is the animosity the Chavists feel for the Spanish right, the PP. This has a lot to do with Aznar's prompt recognition in 2002 of the ephemeral (about 48 hours) regime that emerged from the military coup against Chávez, with the businessman Pedro Carmona as uneasy president-for-a-day.

When you offer mediation, it is better to be sure of a friendly or at least a polite reception"

And then the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, could hardly show receptivity to a dialogue that, in the eyes of half the country, would have amounted to allowing foreigners to solve an internal Venezuelan problem. When an offer of intervention, however justified it may seem, can be at all interpreted as interference, the best policy is silence.

The former Socialist foreign minister Moratinos, like his former boss Zapatero, had only a patchy knowledge of Latin American affairs, and might have paid more attention to the continent. But at least he knew better than to butt in unasked. Spain, as our diplomats in situ know well enough, should ask leave of the local powers before speaking up, as Aznar learned when he berated Cuba for its treatment of the opposition.

The EU, which Aznar sought to bring into the brawl, was frankly uninterested, so that the operation yielded only a very halfhearted EU common policy, and the rather sniffy abstention of the rest of Latin America. Monroe's trumpet call of "America for the Americans" is still fully applicable in the post-colonial world. Spain does have a role to play in Latin America: a role of availability, when asked, to show whether she possesses the "soft power" to which she can still aspire.

Recently for example, Colombia, where Spain has an excellent line of diplomatic credit, did not however see fit to offer her a role, however modest, in the peace process with the guerrillas. And it is a good-neighbor role of this sort to which Spain can expect to be invited — but always remembering that the master of the house reserves the right of admission.

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