Spanish king's 'shut up' reflects complex colonial history

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Even though they achieved independence more than a century ago, the Spanish-speaking nations of Latin America often look to Spain as a reference point. Sometimes the mother country is a foil, sometimes a support, sometimes a mirror, for what unfolds on this side of the Atlantic.

In recent weeks, Spain clearly has been cast as both a punching bag for Latin America's leftists and a bastion of valor for its moderates, after a dissing match in which a king of Spain took offense at a Venezuelan president's remarks and told him, very publicly: "Why don't you shut up?"

The dressing down quickly took on a life of its own. King Juan Carlos's blunt question instantly became the campaign slogan of the day for enemies of President Hugo Chávez. It blared from YouTube clips everywhere, rang out from cellphones in both Spain and Venezuela, and screamed from T-shirts all over Caracas.

In the excitement, the context of the exchange was largely brushed over: In addition to an epic spectacle, the comic opera offered a terrific glimpse into the unendingly complicated relations between Spain and its former colonies.

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