The Ugly Spaniard

Carlos Alberto Montaner


(FIRMAS PRESS) In 1958, two American writers, William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, coined a pithy phrase: The Ugly American. That’s what they titled their successful novel, in which they criticized the arrogant diplomats and U.S. businessmen who, with their unpleasant behavior, provoked a profound antipathy in the imaginary Asian country where the plot unfolded. Naturally, neither author was anti-American; on the contrary, both condemned that phenomenon because they felt it benefited Soviet imperialism.

In Latin American, people are beginning to talk about The Ugly Spaniard. Venezuelans, for example, reproach the two largest Spanish banks for having given a considerable amount of money to Hugo Chávez for the campaign that took him to the presidency in late 1998. What business did those institutions have financing the rope with which democracy would gradually be choked in that country? It is true that many Venezuelan entrepreneurs committed the same suicidal stupidity, but from a respectable multinational bank one expects a behavior that’s more sensible and respectful of the international legal standards.

Nevertheless, it may be in Cuba where the image of The Ugly Spaniard is most evident. Why? Because of historic proximity. There is no offense more painful than that perpetrated by a dear relative. Those Spanish hoteliers (as well as Italian and Dutch) who associate with the dictatorship to close their doors to the natives and become collaborators of the political police by placing hidden cameras and microphones in rooms to spy on their guests are more than just unscrupulous businessmen: they are accomplices in the apartheid and repression that exist on the island, crimes that likely will bring upon them grave criminal liability after the inevitable transition to freedom. Their own lawyers have already warned them about that.

All this comes to mind because of the man Cubans see as the ugliest Spaniard ever, given his political prominence: Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos. His boss, President Zapatero, against the advice of a great many diplomats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some responsible socialists, has entrusted him with the dirty job of trying to alleviate European pressures against Castro’s government on the issue of human rights, without taking into account the 300 political prisoners on the island, or the tortures they suffer in prison, or the permanent harassment aimed at opposition democrats, such as the mobs the regime constantly sics on the Ladies in White, an organization of peaceful and defenseless women whose relatives are prisoners of conscience.

Zapatero’s government is doing exactly what, throughout the 20th Century, the so-called progressives — an inexplicable label, inasmuch as they usually defend the systems and countries that progress the least — criticized The Ugly American for: treating a dictatorship with consideration, doing business with it, favoring it in international forums and ignoring the claims of the victims. Washington was censured (and with reason) for maintaining good relations with Somoza, Batista and Franco. The same attitude that’s being shown by Zapatero’s Madrid toward Fidel Castro.

Why does the Spanish government attempt to serve the Cuban dictatorship in its final stage? There are two theories. The first one, the one of The Ugly Spaniard, explains it as a cold decision in defense of economic interests, without taking into consideration either principles or values. The second one is what is being called The Foolish Spaniard. According to the latter, Minister Moratinos has reached the conclusion that his Cuban counterpart, Felipe Pérez Roque, is — deep in his heart — a reformist that would like to generate change in Cuba as soon as Fidel Castro decides to die, and he needs some sort of international mooring to do that.

Either possibility does faint honor to an admirable society that a few decades ago achieved democracy and liberty through a transition that amazed the world. Cubans don’t deserve such miserable diplomacy. Neither do the Spaniards. [©FIRMAS PRESS]

April 8, 2007

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