Spanish diplomat fulfills dream with visit to Institute |

Spanish diplomat fulfills dream with visit to Institute

In one man’s view, Aspen is better-known worldwide for The Aspen Institute than it is for skiing.

Antonio de Oyarzabal, the Spanish ambassador to the United States, voiced that opinion Friday at The Aspen Institute. The ambassador was in town for a 48-hour visit, hosted by the Nitze family and the Institute.

Aspen is a big-name destination worldwide, said the ambassador, who made use of his first opportunity to visit here by planning to attend a seminar on communication Saturday.

“The Aspen Institute has been promoting the discussion of topics that concern us all,” Oyarzabal said. “So for somebody like me, who is in international politics, The Aspen Institute has been kind of a dream that I’ve finally been able to materialize in this short visit.”

Before being assigned to Washington, D.C., Oyarzabal represented his country in its embassies in Ecuador, Japan and Denmark. “My father was a diplomat,” he said, “so perhaps I had it in my blood.”

He noted he’s had the opportunity to be a diplomat at a time when the world has undergone rapid and dramatic changes. “I think that to be a diplomat is a privilege, and I take it as such.”

Oyarzabal said Spain and the United States have much in the way of common interests, culturally, economically and strategically. Spain is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in fact the secretary-general of the alliance is a Spaniard.

It is in the interest of the two countries and the rest of the free world to embrace the countries “that suffered the long night of communism,” he said. Expanding the idea that people can live in a much better world if they accept the principles of democracy and the free market is a common goal, Oyarzabal said.

He said Spain and its NATO allies are faced with the task of creating a safer continent. “What we’re trying to do is form a Europe that will put behind us the dramatic history that we’ve had in the 19th and 20th centuries.” He said the challenge is to create a Europe in which nations’ differences and uniquenesses remain, but common ground among them make it a safe and stable place.

“That’s why Spain felt that we had to intervene to put right what was wrong in the Balkans,” the ambassador said. What is wrong, he asserted, is ethnic hatred, and ethnic hatred cannot be accepted. Spain has underscored its commitment by sending 1,200 peacekeeping troops to Kosovo, he said.

Oyarzabal believes that ethnic hatred can be stopped from passing from one generation of Yugoslavs to another, he said. As an optimistic example he cited his own people. The memory of the Spanish Civil War, which killed perhaps one million, remains, he said. But the hatred has subsided.

“We consider Spain now a kind of different society, where nobody today in Spain would even consider a situation that would [lead to] war,” he said.

Oyarzabal said relations are very good between the United States and Spain, making his job here easy. A stickier situation exists between Chile and Spain, where a magistrate has called for the extradition of General Pinochet, former Chilean dictator, to Spain to face charges stemming from the torture or disappearance of numerous Spanish citizens during his rule.

The ambassador foresees a day when an international court will rule on such cases. “People say, `he was a head of state of Chile. Why is he called before a Spanish magistrate?’ Well, because there is a natural tendency for getting these crimes under the justice of an international court,” he said.

For the time being, Oyarzabal said, conventions which have been signed between nations give authority to judges in any country to indict people who have been accused of such crimes.

Oyarzabal said his job in Washington involves, more than anything else, making friends. “So when you really need someone who can help you in a situation, you don’t call a senator or the secretary of state. You call a friend,” he said. “This takes time, but it’s a very rewarding activity,” he said. “I feel privileged to be a diplomat and to be an ambassador, and to be the Spanish ambassador to Washington.”

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