The first few months of 1997 must have been pretty weird for Queen Elizabeth II, who died this week, at 96 years old. Owner of an exuberant life story, she was forced to see before her an authentic court jester with the title of president. In May of that year, Hugo Chávez entered one of the rooms at Buckingham Palace, as if entering a stage in a talk show, and shook the hand of the monarch who was waiting for him with a smile on his face.
But Chávez did not stop there. In front of the cameras that would distribute the image to the world, he stretched out his arms for a few seconds, as if waiting for a hug from the queen. After a mischievous smile, he made a disappointed face, almost a pout, when the queen, bewildered, tried to take a step back. For many, the gesture, nothing more and nothing less, was one of the brutalities of the tropics.
It was nothing like that. Chavez knew very well what he was doing. Still in London, inside the presidential plane that was getting ready to take off, Chávez burst into laughter as he narrated his great feat. “Have you seen the old woman’s face? They came to tell me that I couldn’t take the initiative to touch her. What do these English people think they are?”, asked Chávez, according to the account of a witness who was part of his entourage.
Among the many things that Chávez had in mind for his meeting with Queen Elizabeth II, one was certain. He wanted to make fun of her.
The former Chavista minister who recounts this scene described Chávez’s effort as “rebellion”. An uncontrollable urge to challenge traditions and power. Something very much typical of the left and, of course, teenagers.
Speaking of leftism and its tantrums, two months before Chávez tried to win an “old lady” hug, another president from subtropical lands filled the bag of Queen Elizabeth and her ceremonial. Before landing in London to respond to a royal invitation, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called on Brazilian diplomats to negotiate the list of demands and denials. Lula sent word that he refused to wear white tie – the classic attire consisting of a tailcoat or tailcoat – which men invited to the gala banquets are expected to wear.
There were so many annoyances that the rudimentary clothes of the PT delegation were accepted. The suit and tie was released. An exotic night in the life of Queen Elizabeth. Lula refused to visit the Center for Brazilian Studies at the University of Oxford, inaugurated by the then Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in 1997, and considered by Lula’s circle of advisers as a “Toucan stronghold”. The list of unsaid to the British was long.
On English soil, Lula squandered his style. To the royal guests, at that gala banquet, he spoke…spoke…spoke…spoke for more than ten minutes, more than twice the time used by the queen. And to explain the chemistry between the UK and Brazil, Lula used nothing less than football. “We can combine British experience with Brazilian creativity to achieve the best results. That’s what Englishman Charles Miller did by bringing this sport to Brazil.”
Hit the beam. Miller was from São Paulo, the son of an Englishman and a Brazilian.
Both Chávez and Lula made foreign policy thinking more about their convictions than about their countries. The serial idiocy demonstrated in front of Queen Elizabeth II is undeniably the least harmful compared to the many others that have brought harm to the people, whether in Brazil or in Venezuela.
It is hard to think how we were represented in front of a giant that has just left us. But reports of her intelligence, sense of humor and generosity left us with hope that she didn’t take such futility seriously.
Thank you, Your Majesty.