Teodoro Obiang, the longtime dictator of Equatorial Guinea, on Tuesday gave thanks to Spain’s royal family for intervening on his behalf so that he could talk at a conference on Spanish in Africa at the Cervantes Institute in Brussels.
His comments drew a quick clarification from the Zarzuela royal palace, which stated that King Juan Carlos had done nothing to help convince cultural authorities to allow the president to hold his conference.
Obiang had traveled to Brussels after attending the funeral Mass held for former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez, who died on March 20 at age 81. The Spanish government had played down the leader’s presence at the event.
The president, who has been in office since 1979 after he seized power from his uncle in a military coup, also participated in the IV EU-African conference, and attended a lunch and reception at the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Brussels.
The palace also clarified that it had not extended a personal invitation to Obiang to come to Madrid
“I would like to thank his majesty, King Juan Carlos, for intervening so that I can be here today,” Obiang said.
Zarzuela said that while it appreciated the African leader’s comments, it did not help pave the way for Obiang’s visit. At the same time the Royal Household also clarified that it had not extended a personal invitation to the Equatorial Guinean president to come to Madrid. All countries accredited in the Spanish capital were given invitations and allowed to select who they wanted to represent their nations at the funeral, Zarzuela said.
Obiang was the only foreign head of state to attend the memorial Mass for Suárez at La Almudena Cathedral.
Obiang has won successive presidential elections since 1979 – a feat his opponents claim has been accomplished through fraud. Last week Amnesty International condemned the government of Equatorial Guinea for executing “between four and nine” people who had opposed the regime. Obiang last month declared a temporary moratorium on the death penalty.