The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang, is at the center of controversy in Spain once again, this time for having been invited to the country during the same week as the state funeral for former prime minister Adolfo Suárez, and for giving several lectures at the Instituto Cervantes [es] and the partner institution at the National Distance Education University (UNED) of Brussels.
A few months have passed since the controversy was sparked in November of last year when the Spanish national football team agreed to play a friendly game in Equatorial Guinea against the national team. The Guinean government promoted the game and practically treated it like a victory for Equatorial Guinea's diplomacy. Ángel Engonga Obama wrote the following on the website for the Equatorial Guinea Office of Information and Press [es]:
Guinea Ecuatorial, un pequeño gran país en vías de desarrollo, próspero, pujante y seguro, será reconocido en todo el globo. (…) ¿El resultado? ¡Guinea ya ha ganado este partido! ¡¡Y por goleada!!
Equatorial Guinea, a small, grand country that is developing, prosperous, strong, and secure, will be recognized around the globe. (…) The result? Guinea has won this game! And by a landslide!!
In contrast to this triumphalist tone, in a letter to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) [es] the Association for Human Rights asked to “immediately suspend the celebration of the game” to not legitimize “a corrupt and murderous dictatorial regime” that “practices torture and arbitrary detention (…) and imposing a harsh repression upon all of its citizens, civil society organizations, and political parties that are not related to it.”
The Guinean opposition, political parties, and citizens of all stripes also disagreed with the RFEF's decision. Physicist and blogger Principia Marsupia tweeted:
— Principia Marsupia (@pmarsupia) November 9, 2013
The national team will play for free in Equatorial Guinea. Why? To please a dictator with oil.
Other Twitter users criticized the attitude of the national team's players and coaches [es], who did not want to position themselves against the regime, but refused to be photographed with dictator Obiang:
La infanta no sabía que su marido Robaba y los jugadores De la selección no saben que dos Portales más allá del estadio se Tortura en Guinea
— No Soy Del PP (@elpadrecorajede) November 15, 2013
The princess did not know that her husband stole, and the players on the national team do not know that two doors down from the stadium, people are being tortured in Guinea
As if this scandal was not enough, this week Obiang has become almost ubiquitous in the Spanish press and social media for being the only head of state that attended the state funeral for former president Adolfo Suárez, and for having been invited to several events at the delegations of the Instituto Cervantes and the National Distance Education University (UNED) in Brussels.
A few weeks ago, it was revealed that Obiang took advantage of his stay in Brussels to attend the EU-Africa summit and had planned to give two lectures at the Instituto Cervantes and UNED on “Spanish in Africa”, since Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking African country. Moreover, Obiang himself studied law at UNED.
These invitations outraged human rights organizations once again, along with political parties and citizens who flooded social networks with comments and protests. Dr. Juan Ramón Aranzadi Martínez, Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at UNED, wrote an open letter to the chancellor of UNED [es] to ask that Obiang's invitation be revoked:
Obiang se ha convertido en uno de los hombres más ricos del mundo al apropiarse personalmente de la inmensa riqueza “nacional” derivada de la explotación del petróleo, el país que domina y la población a la que somete ofrecen en todas las estadísticas internacionales los más altos índices de corrupción y los más bajos índices de educación, sanidad y nivel de vida de la población (…) no se debe pagar cualquier precio por [mantener la UNED en Guinea]: no se debe, por ejemplo, contribuir al maquillaje democrático y la legitimación internacional de un dictador corrupto
Obiang has become one of the world's richest people by personally appropriating the vast “national” wealth derived from the exploitation of oil, the country that dominates and the population that he suppresses offer all of the international statistics with the highest levels of corruption and the lowest levels of education, health, and living standards for the population (…) no price should be paid to [maintain UNED in Guinea]: no contribution should be made, for example, to the democratic makeup and international legitimization of a corrupt dictator
Various petitions were also started to suspend the events [es], with one of them getting over 42,000 signatures. Blogger RGAlmazán wrote:
Así, de forma desvergonzada pero ingenua piensan que tratando bien a este asesino –así lo reconocen desde Amnistía Internacional o Human Rights Watch— pueden conseguir contratos comerciales. En busca de petróleo, madera y pesca nuestro rey y nuestros gobiernos (éste y anteriores) pierden el culo ante este sátrapa sin importarles nada los derechos humanos.
This way, shamelessly but naively, people think that by treating this murderer – as he is viewed by International Amnesty or Human Rights Watch – well, they can get commercial contracts. In search of oil, timber, and fishing, our king and our governments (past and present) lose their heads over this satrap with no regard for human rights.
Luspagnolu left the following comment on menéame [es]:
A ver si se ha autoinvitado y no les consta. Vale, acabo de leer que la visita se produce por “petición del propio mandatario”: surrealista. Pero, vamos, alguien con dos dedos de frente le podía haber dicho no.
Let's see if he has invited himself and does not make them aware. Alright, I just read that the visit comes at the “request of the president himself”: surreal. But come on, someone with half a brain could have told him no.
On Twitter, the MP for Union, Progress and Democracy (UpyD), Toni Cantó, and journalist Antonio Naranjo shared their opinions on the issues that Obiang discussed at the conference:
Obiang podrá explicar en el Cervantes y en la UNED el significado d las palabras:dictador,preso político,asesinatos,robo,torturas #vergüenza
— Toni Cantó (@Tonicanto1) March 21, 2014
At Cervantes and UNED, Obiang will be able to explain the meaning of these words: dictator, political prisoner, murders, thefts, tortures #shame
El Cervantes invita a dar charlas a Obiang: – Gastronomía y antropofagia. – Represión creativa. – Igualdad en Guinea: torturamos a todos.
— Antonio Naranjo (@AntonioRNaranjo) March 20, 2014
Cervantes invites Obiang to give talks: – Gastronomy and cannibalism. – Creative repression. – Equality in Guinea: we torture everyone.
Meanwhile, the dictator added more fuel to the fire when, at the end of his lecture at the IC, he was surprised [es] by “the attitude of some nostalgic individuals who reject this meeting for reasons that have nothing to do with the development of the Spanish language in Equatorial Guinea.” And he immediately thereafter had no qualms about putting the king of Spain in a rather compromising position:
Quisiera agradecer a Su Majestad el Rey (de España), porque yo sé (que) ha influido para que yo también pueda participar en este encuentro cultural.
I wanted to thank His Royal Highness the King (of Spain), because I know (that) he has had an influence on me also being able to participate in this cultural event.
The royal family was quick to deny the monarch's involvement [es], which earned this tweet from Yefri Bomon:
— Yefri Bomon (@yefribomon) April 2, 2014
How are things so that it is so clear to me that Obiang is telling the truth and the House of Bourbon is lying! #Suborbonation #StructuralFraud
Obiang's attendance at the state funeral for Adolfo Suárez caused his lecture at UNED to be suspended. His presence at the funeral provoked a new barrage of criticism, compounded by the fact that television networks omitted the dictator's salute to the king and President Rajoy [es], which has been considered an act of censorship. Eloy paterna gila summed up the feelings of many Spaniards with this tweet to end a week of absurdities and inconsistencies:
Al dictador Obiang lo traen para el Cervantes y lo esconden para el funeral. Que bochorno y q papelón hacemos en el mundo
— eloy paterna gila (@italyforever66) April 1, 2014
Dictator Obiang was brought for Cervantes and hidden for the funeral. What a disgrace and spectacle we make for the world.