Hugo Chávez is threatening to nationalize Spanish holdings in Venezuela in retaliation for King Juan Carlos' verbal rebuke at the Ibero-American Summit. Zapatero and Moratinos are ready to do any penance themselves to satisfy him, afraid that they will be blamed, as already they are being blamed, for cultivating such "friends" for Spain and endangering national interests for the sake of international grandstanding. The summit was a much-needed wake-up all for the Spanish Socialists. It was not just Hugo Chávez who was castigating Spain for the very "abuses" which are always charged against the U.S. at international forums. Since this was a meeting of the leaders of "La Raza," it was the original hagemon which was the target of their resentments and envy. The most adamant denouncer among them, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, railed for an hour about his country's Spanish-owned electric company. Public utilities were always a popular target in Latin America. In pre-Castro Cuba, the U.S.-owned Cuban Telephone Company was perhaps the only foreign monopoly which everybody hated. When Cuba was Cuba, Spain was poorer than Cuba so there were no great Spanish-owned conglomerates in Cuba other than those which belonged to Spanish emigrants whose roots were no longer in the motherland. By contrast, in Venezuela today, Spanish investments are held by Spanish capitalists who have no roots in their host country. It is even easier, then, to foment popular resentment again them and use that as a pretext to tighten the government's stranglehold on the economy.
All foreigners must be evicted in order for Venezuela to become the Socialist (read robber) state which Hugo Chávez says he wants it to be. The first page in the manual of economic ruin, which Castro graciously lent his Venezuelan protege and benefactor, is to privatize, nationalize, and, preferably, confiscate without compensation, all foreign capital. This is always the preclude to the theft of all national wealth regardless of whether it is in foreign or native hands.
After Chávez has confiscated Spanish investments in Venezuela — say a decade or two later — he will offer to settle all Spanish claims, now deemed irrecuperable and already written off, for a fraction of a cent on the dollar. The duped will rejoice that they were able to recover even that much, and calculating that bigger investments will offset past losses, grandiose plans will again be drawn for Spanish capitalization. Now, of course, it will be a different kind of investment. The state (Chávez) will be a majority holder in all new enterprises and the salaries of Venezuelan nationals will be paid directly to him, who in turn will allocate some pittance to his hapless subjects, negligible except when compared to the even smaller pittance which the state pays its unindentured servants. Of course, being partners and mindful of each other's interests, Chávez will never again raise the specter of the Black Legend in Venezuela. Once the Spanish firms are in effect working for him there will be no need to decry them as exploiters when it is in his interest to have them refine and expand their exploitation.
In order to reap this double-fortune Chávez must lay the groundwork with a concerted campaign of vilification against Spain and Spaniards. Or perhaps just demand an apology from a Spanish king intent on upholding the honor of his people and his country. All would work as Chávez had hoped and Castro assured him except for his own Socialist allies in Spain who are intent on ruining a good thing for Chávez by kow-towing ten meters into the ground if necessary to placate him and forestall the inevitable piñata until their conservative opponents are in office again, when they will be free to blame the confiscations on their "intransigence" while simultaneously applauding Chávez's "purification of national interests" or "dignification of his people."