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Por que no te callas?

Por que no te callas? is a phrase that was uttered by King Juan Carlos I of Spain to Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, at the 2007 Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile, when Chavez was interrupting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's speech. The phrase became an overnight sensation, gaining cult status as a mobile-phone ringtone, spawning a domain name, a contest, T-shirt sales, and YouTube videos.


At the meeting on 10 November 2007, Chavez repeatedly interrupted the speech of the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, to call the Minister's predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, a "fascist" and "less human than snakes", and accuse Aznar of having supported a failed coup d'etat aimed at removing Chavez from power. Zapatero had earlier irritated Chavez by suggesting that Latin America needed to attract more foreign capital to combat its chronic deepening poverty.

Chavez's attacks became so strong that Zapatero, who is usually considered deeply opposed to his predecessor's policies, defended his predecessor, pointing out that Aznar had been democratically elected and "a legitimate representative of the Spanish people".

Despite organizers switching off Chavez's microphone, he had continued interrupting while Zapatero was defending the former Spanish Prime Minister. King Juan Carlos I leaned forward, turned towards Chavez, and said "Por que no te callas?" He used the informal te (Spanish accusative/dative pronoun for tu) rather than the formal se (reflexive pronoun for usted).

The King's rebuke received applause from the general audience. Shortly after, he left the hall after Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega accused Spain of intervention in his country's elections, and complained about the presence of Spanish energy companies in Nicaragua. The incident is unprecedented, as never before had the king displayed such anger in public.

According to Time magazine, what may have motivated Chavez was that Zapateroof the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party"insisted that Latin America needs to attract more foreign capital if it's going to make a dent in its chronic, deepening poverty". Because Chavez blames capitalism and insists that only socialism can address inequality in Latin America, he went on the tirade against "Aznar and other free-market 'fascists'," resulting in Zapatero's reminding him that Aznar had been democratically elected.

For the king, the incident was part of an annus horribilis for the royal image.

The New York Times analyzed the incident, arguing that it exposed "the unendingly complicated relations between Spain and its former colonies."


Since these events, Chavez has made statements against King Juan Carlos I, questioning his democratic legitimacy, and whether he knew about and endorsed the attempted coup d'etat in Venezuela in 2002. Chavez defended his accusations against Aznar, arguing that prohibiting criticism of an elected official such as Aznar would be similar to prohibiting criticism of Hitler. He stated that he would revise Venezuela's position towards Spain and increase surveillance of the activities of Spanish companies in Venezuela, where Spain has been the main investor and trade partner in the last decade.

The Spanish government has shown appreciation for the reaction of the king and for Zapatero's defense of the dignity of Spanish elected representatives like Aznar.

Several days after the event, Chavez demanded an apology from King Juan Carlos and warned Spain that he would review diplomatic ties and take action against Spanish investments such as Banco Santander and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Venezuela. He accused the king of displaying the kind of

Spanish arrogance that led to their ejection from South America at the hands of Chavezs hero, Simon Bolivar. Spanish diplomats are concerned that Chavez may replace his anti-Americanism with attacks on what he calls "Spanish imperialism". Speaking about Venezuela's indigenous peoples, Chavez said of the Spanish, "They slit our people's throats and chopped them into little bits and left them on the outskirts of towns and villages - that was what the Spanish empire did here." The Spanish foreign ministry denied that the "Por que no te callas?" incident was indicative of Spanish-Latin American relations. Analysts say Chavez uses such incidents to "fire up his support base among the majority poor at home with blunt language that plays on their misgivings of rich countries investments in Latin America."

According to the Los Angeles Times, it is uncertain which of the two men came out of the incident looking worse: "Chavez for his boorish lack of etiquette", or the king for insulting another leader. The king's words raise questions as the "200th anniversary of independence for the former Spanish colonies" approaches. Several days after the incident, Venezuela's state-run television ran footage of Juan Carlos with Francisco Franco. The king was depicted as the dictator's lackey, but the facts that the 1978 constitution that preserved monarchy had been approved by a referendum, and the key role played by the king in putting down an attempted military coup in 1981, were not mentioned.

The king's outburst received divided reactions from other leaders. Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defended Chavez, while Peru's and El Salvador's Presidents Alan Garcia and Antonio Saca supported the king.

An editor for the Washington Post noted the "Spanish-speaking world has been abuzz about [this] verbal slapdown," and suggested that King Juan Carlos "should have asked the assembled heads of state: 'Why don't you speak up?'"Jackson Diehl, "Silencing Venezuela's President a Royal Task", 21 November 2007, syndicated in the Albuquerque Journal, p. A9.

Subsequent events

One week after the event, the Wall Street Journal wrote that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia delivered a second rebuke in one week to Chavez from a king, when he reminded Chavez that oil should not be used as a tool for conflict. The remarks came minutes after Chavez called for OPEC to "assert itself as an active political agent" at the OPEC summit in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh. In a followup at the OPEC summit, Reuters wrote that "Spain's king cannot shut Chavez up but bladder can", and Dubai's Al Arabiya wrote that Chavez said to a throng of reporters at the OPEC summit, "For a while now, I have needed to go to the bathroom and I am going to pee ... Do you want me to pee on you?"

Two weeks after the event, Chile's President Michelle Bachelet revealed that she had politely requested that Chavez abstain from making some statements at the summit, indicating frankly that she felt "let down" by the subsequent discussions at the OPEC meeting, considering the effect that the price of oil has on countries like Chile. Also just weeks after the incident, Chavez was "accused of breaking a protocol accord" with Colombia's President Uribe and "exhaust[ing] his Colombian counterpart's patience by speaking out of turn once too often", formally ending Chavez's mediation in hostage negotiations with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group. (Dialogue resumed later and the hostages were freed in January 2008.)

Popularity of phrase

Zapatero said he did not realize what a monumental moment it had been until he returned home and his eldest daughter greeted him with "Por que no te callas?", which made them both laugh. Hermoso, Borja. Aznar a Zapatero: "Tu eres el presidente, me llamas cuando quieras". El Pais, 13 November 2007. Retrieved on 15 November 2007.

The king's phrase gained cult slogan status, ringing from mobile phones, appearing on T-shirts, and being used as a greeting. The domain, porquenotecallas.com, had reached US$4,600 on eBay as of 16 November 2007. The phrase became a YouTube sensation overnight, and a composer turned his words into new and amusing lyrics to a traditional Spanish song. The phrase has spawned countless media articles, jokes, songs, video clips and even mobile phone ringtones that say "Por que no te callas?" when the phone rings. As of 14 November 2007, Google generated 665,000 webhits on the phrase and YouTube had 610 videos. Entrepreneurs in Florida and Texas put the slogan on T-shirts, and marketed them on eBay and elsewhere; the phrase has become a greeting among Venezuelan expats in Miami and Spain and a slogan for Chavez opponents. In Spain an estimated 500,000 people have downloaded the phrase as a ringtone, generating 1.5 million in sales.

Less than 24 hours after the event, the king's words were used by the sports commentators during the radio transmission of Spanish language football games to describe controversial events. A contest for the best audiovisual depiction of the event was announced in Spain. The Cincinnati Enquirer editorial page suggested that the phrase will have the power to change the course of history, as did Ronald Reagan's, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

The Los Angeles Times says "the Spanish-speaking world can hardly stop talking about [the incident]", which provided "fodder for satirists from Mexico City to Madrid". The reaction was apparent "in newspaper headlines, cable television and on YouTube. His phrase was reproduced on T-shirts, and cellphone ring tones. In Mexico City, the dust-up became a satirical skit, "El Chabo del 8." In El Salvador's capital, the phrase became a playful greeting." The Sydney Morning Herald reported the king could earn a multimillion-euro business if he claimed rights over the phrase, which generated a Benny Hill-style skit and a Nike ad, "Juan do it. Just shut up", with the Brazilian football star, Ronaldinho. Canada's CBC News said an actor's voice was used to mimic the king's voice in the ringtone to avoid legal problems over the use of the phrase, which has also generated sales of coffee mugs. The infamous phrase was also referred to in a comic song called "Baila el Chiki-chiki", Spain's contribution to Eurovision 2008, and in the song "La Plata", by the Brazilian pop-rock band Jota Quest.

Protestors against the Chavez government have adopted the phrase as their slogan; T-shirts in Venezuela have the slogan with the "NO" in capital letters, representing a call to vote against reforms to expand Chavez's power in the December 2007 constitutional referendum and the phrase was used as a taunt when more than 100,000 marched in protest against Chavez's proposed constitutional changes.

In Argentina, a television programme called "Por que no te callas" began broadcasting on 6 December 2007.

Alternative forms

According to Fundeu, the Urgent Spanish Foundation, and the Director of the Chilean Academy of the Spanish language, the phrase uttered by the king, given the situation under which it was said, should be written with exclamation marks instead of question marks: Por que no te callas! Alternatively, it could be written using a combination of both exclamation and question marks: Por que no te callas?! or Por que no te callas!?

External links

Video of the incident - El Pais - El Rey a Chavez: "Por que no te callas?" (no subtitles)

Youtube video of the incident (English subtitles)
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