Monday, November 19, 2007

The angry “Why don’t you shut up?” that King Juan Carlos I of Spain uttered against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez a week ago on Saturday has apparently reached a cult status in Spain and Venezuela.

A mobile phone ringtone remix of the quote text has been downloaded 500,000 times (generating some 1.5 million revenues). The ringtone features a voice actor (avoiding legal issues) with beats and a loop effect emphasising the ‘shut up’. A student group from the Venezuelan capital of Caracas which opposes the President has downloaded the ringtone too. “It’s a form of protest, it’s something that a lot of people would like to tell the president. Now, whenever we call each other, that’s what we hear,” said Laura Solorzano, 21, in a telephone interview with the Miami Herald.

Today, the internet domain name of the quote was sold on eBay for €10,200 to a Spanish power seller called ‘daikoku-design’. Juan Antonio Morales, 34, of Almería, Spain, had reserved the domain shortly after news of the dispute broke. The video on YouTube has been viewed over 1.3 million times, and there are numerous parodies using the quote. T-shirts and coffee mugs with the slogan are also selling well. The phrase has also become notable enough to merit an article on Wikipedia.

At the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile on November 10, Chávez called the Spain’s former prime minister, José María Aznar, a “fascist”. Current Prime Minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero tried to reply, but Chávez, although his microphone was switched off, kept interrupting him. The Spanish King first pointed a finger at Mr. Chávez, with the words “Y tu” (and you). Then, while Zapatero still tried to reply, he said “¿Por qué no te callas?” while making a gesture with his hand. Note that the King used the informal ‘te callas’ instead of the formal and polite third-person form. Zapatero finally replied that “…in a forum where there are democratic governments … one of the essential principles is respect. You can disagree radically, without being disrespectful.” ‘

The rare outburst of the King has led to some disturbance in political relations between the countries; Chávez demanded an apology from the King but said he did not want a political conflict with Spain, while Spanish diplomats hope the situation will soon normalise. The Spanish PM stressed the incident was magnified by of the media attention it received. In statements to the press, the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, minimized the incident between Hugo Chávez and the King of Spain: “There is little difference in opinion between King Juan Carlos and Chavez. There are many other differences between heads of State. Divergence is part of a democratic meeting.”

The situation brings attention to changes Chávez has proposed to the Venezuelan constitution, which would lift the restriction on the number of terms for the President of Venezuela.