Although I am aware that it is has practically become a cliché and, for that very reason, it often loses meaning, but just because it has been repeated many times, it is not less true: the best ambassador of Spain has been King Juan Carlos I. From his position as Chief of State, and with the intuition, dexterity and skills of a great negotiator, he managed to break down the isolation that Spain had been enduring for decades. In the foreign sphere, King Juan Carlos has represented the nation with prudence and wisdom, as well as representing our pro-European and international aspirations for both Spanish society and politics. His support was essential to accelerate our entry in Europe and to relaunch our relations with Latin America, the United States, the Arab world and the Mediterranean. He set off initiatives to move closer to multilateral, regional and national organizations. His knowledge of foreign policy and diplomacy, his open nature, were of great help to our democracy throughout his reign. Therefore, we can highlight his role in the presentation of our country in 1992, the year in which both the Barcelona Olympic Games and the Seville Universal Exhibition took place, both events in which the crown’s participation was vital to make modern Spain visible to the world, a Spain with imagination and sufficient drive to occupy its rightful place in the world. His role was also decisive during the Madrid Peace Conference and, three years later, at the Barcelona Euro-Mediterranean Summit during its tenth anniversary.
King Juan Carlos has been a deeply Latin American King, without his unyielding commitment towards this community of nations, the organization of a system of summits and the Ibero-American General Secretariat would have been far more difficult. His determination has propelled the evolution of the both the Spanish and European narrative. Today, each Latin America nation has its own profile and they are not looked upon as a monolith, and that is the reason he became involved in the development of their regional organizations and associations.
The King has always been respectful of political decisions and has carried out his constitutional role with rigor. This behavior fits the memories I have from a multitude of trips, work meetings, audiences and interviews. He has always made himself available to the government and been at the service of the country and Spanish society. He has travelled relentlessly for the purpose of broadening the horizons of our political and diplomatic relations. During the almost seven years that I was at the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, both the King and the Queen have actively cooperated towards our international opening, as well as carrying Spain’s solidarity to those countries struck by hunger, sub-development or natural catastrophes. The Kings’ support of the African policies was fundamental for Spain to be situated on the map and considered by the African nations as both Southern and Western, and their work allowed us to have broader and more intense relations with these countries.
Fortunately, King Juan Carlos has always gone beyond economical diplomacy as he exercised his functions as Chief of the Nation, and he has been actively involved in lifting the barriers to our language and culture, as well as Spaniards’ solidarity. His closeness has made it possible for the warmth and the affection of Spanish citizens to reach impoverished societies. Queen Sofia has been the spearhead of Spanish cooperation and the Prince and Princess of Asturias have brought us even closer to the international community. The crown has been instrumental in setting up the public Spanish diplomatic network, and it has always accompanied the implementation of new centers of the Cervantes Institute all over the world, as well as the creation of the Africa, Arab, Sephardi-Israel and Mediterranean houses, or the establishment of the UNART Foundation that made it possible for Barceló to design the dome of the Palace of Nations in Geneva – just to mention a few examples.
There are many and varied anecdotes about King Juan Carlos, but I most fondly remember a lunch with President Obama at the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago de Chile, where the face-off with deceased President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela took place. The King proved his political and social skills, as well as his great knowledge of international policies. President Obama was pleasantly surprised by his personality and his clarity of ideas because, regardless of bilateral relations, Latin America and, most particularly, Cuba occupied an important spot on the agenda that day, and that luncheon upgraded and energized our dialogue with the United States. As regards the differences with President Chávez, we just have to remember how His Majesty, with serenity and a sense of humor, rebuilt his personal relation with the Venezuelan president at Marivent, where the latter gave him a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Why don’t you shut up?”, and then told him that President Bush had given it to him. I still remember my last meeting with him as Minister. I informed him of the agreement we had signed to begin diplomatic relations with Bhutan, completing the full circle of relations with all nations represented in the United Nations. The King began in a country isolated from the world and, during his reign, we have become fully integrated into the European Union, we have been members of the UN Security Council three times, we have presided the European Council as many times again, and we have held the presidency of the European Council and the OSCE, and today we are also part of the G-20.
The King has decided to abdicate, opening the door to the next generation so they may be the protagonists of History, and those of us who enthusiastically cooperated with him will do the same with the Prince and Princess of Asturias, enhancing even more his figure and his will to reach agreements, as well as his commitment to the general interests of Spain for whom he has been the best ambassador of this democratic era.