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by Tito Drago

Bolivia's New President Vows To Fight U.S. Policies

(IPS) MADRID -- In the face of heavy criticism, the Catholic Church in Spain finally backed down and scolded the COPE radio station, which it owns, for a prank played on Bolivia's president-elect Evo Morales.

A comedian on the Radio COPE program directed by journalist Federico Jimenez Losantos phoned Morales, posing as Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

In the conversation, broadcast by the station, the comic praised "brother Hugo (Chavez, the president of Venezuela) and Fidel (Castro, president of Cuba)," offered the newly elected left-wing president-elect unconditional support, and ended with the statement "Down with imperialism!"

As soon as he heard what had happened, Zapatero called Morales, offered a formal apology, and chatted with him about the future. The Spanish government also urged COPE to apologize.

"This was an unacceptable supposed 'joke' involving an impersonation of the prime minister and an attempt to ridicule the president-elect of a friendly Latin American nation," said government spokesman Fernando Moraleda, who called on Radio COPE to present a formal apology.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos summoned the Vatican envoy, Monsignor Manuel Monteiro de Castro, and told him that the hoax hurt Spain's foreign relations and image, and that such an incident should never happen again.

The telephone conversation between the impersonator and Morales was recorded two days after the leader of Bolivia's coca farmers won a landslide first-round victory with 54 percent of the vote.

The office of the papal nuncio (the Vatican envoy), Spain's bishops' conference and the directors of the COPE station failed to respond to IPS inquiries about the incident, although they acknowledged having been asked by the government to take steps to mend the situation.

It was not until Moraleda spoke to bishops' conference spokesman Juan Antonio Martinez Camino that sources with Moraleda's office reported that the bishops' conference representative had stated that the COPE prank was "unacceptable."

Moraleda told journalists that Martinez Camino said the incident caused by COPE "cannot be considered a joke," and that the radio station should apologize to the Bolivian president-elect because it "went too far."

Sources close to Moraleda said he insisted in his conversation with Martinez Camino that Radio COPE should apologize to Morales, which it has not yet done.

The director of the station, Genaro Gonzalez del Hierro, wrote Bolivia's ambassador to Spain, lvaro del Pozo, to tell him that he was sorry for "any troubles caused by the joke" and that "the comics in question have been informed of the inconvenience that can be caused by this kind of act."

Ambassador del Pozo said Gonzalez del Hierro's letter did not satisfy the government or society in Bolivia, who wanted an "explicit apology" sent to the president-elect and the Bolivian public "reflecting the magnitude of the incident."

The Spanish Federation of Press Associations (FAPE), an organization of media professionals, issued a statement excusing Jimenez Losantos.

According to the FAPE, the call was made by a group of comedians who "are totally unconnected with the exercise of journalism," since "they are from the world of entertainment and sheltered by the right to engage in criticism and satire."

The statement added that the use of such means for news purposes does not conform to proper journalistic practice, but stressed that those who feel their rights have been violated by these acts can "always have full recourse to the courts of law."

On the other hand, Fernando Jauregui, a journalist and analyst for Television Espanola, columnist for the Madrid daily newspaper ABC and member of the board of the International Press Club, told IPS that the stunt pulled by COPE constitutes the crime of impersonation, "a very serious offence that is treated as such by the Criminal Code."

The radio station's actions also violated the professional ethics of journalism, he added, because "they laughed at the president-elect and treated him with journalistic and professional indignity."

COPE, one of the radio stations with the largest listening audience in Spain, is fully owned by the Catholic Church. The Spanish bishops conference controls 51 percent of the shares, while the rest are divided up among individual dioceses, Catholic orders such as the Dominicans and Jesuits, and other branches of the church.

The lion's share of the responsibility lies with the bishops conference, since it has the majority control needed to designate and remove the station's directors, as well as to influence its editorial line.

Jimenez Losantos, a journalist with a lengthy career in the media, is currently the director of the COPE morning show, and also writes a column for the Madrid daily El Mundo.

A Maoist in his youth and a parliamentary candidate for the Socialist Party of Andalusia in the early 1980s, his political views have since shifted to the right.

After being asked by the Spanish government to apologize to Morales, Jimenez Losantos simply pointed out that the "joke" played on the Bolivian president-elect was similar to one played on Chavez by the hosts of a radio show in Miami, who called the Venezuelan leader pretending to be Cuban President Castro.

Official spokespersons for the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) described the stunt pulled on the show directed by Jimenez Losantos "irresponsible and unacceptable," because "impersonating the prime minister to deceive the democratic president-elect of a nation like Bolivia is furthermore a very serious crime.

"What makes it even more serious is that we are not dealing here with an isolated incident that could be considered an error or slip. The different announcers on COPE have been boasting all day about the perpetration of this crime and ridiculing the Bolivian president," they added.

The "joke," in addition to landing COPE, Jimenez Santos and the bishops conference in hot water, has also served to bring Morales and Zapatero closer together.

As soon as the incident occurred, the Spanish leader called Morales to express his apologies, even though he had nothing to do with what happened, and to formally invite the Bolivian president-elect to visit Spain at any date and time he wished.

Although the Bolivian government summoned the Spanish ambassador in La Paz to communicate its displeasure, diplomatic sources in both countries have stated that the radio station's actions will not affect bilateral relations.

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Albion Monitor   January 2, 2006   (

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