Tuesday afternoon, a slew of Columbians filled Low Rotunda to learn a thing or two about the global economy from José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister. The flags of Spain, the U.S., and Columbia were arranged behind the podium to welcome the leader (who does kind of resemble Mr. Bean!) to speak on “The New Economic Order and the Millennium Development Goals.”

Zapatero. /wikimedia

Interpreting devices lined the chairs of the full auditorium, which led to several audible remarks along the lines of, “I wonder if he’s going to speak in Spanish!” If the technological clues were not enough, a woman announced shortly thereafter that Zapatero would, indeed, be giving the speech in his native tongue, then proceeded to connect the audience to an automated messaging system instructed us to dial “1” for English and “2” for Español.

Four speakers comprised the line-up of the longest and most built-up introduction of all time, all referencing the goals of the UN’s Millennium project:

First, provost Claude Steele spoke on how the “responsibility of a global center of learning” such as Columbia to provide a venue in which “difficult conversations are encouraged and respected” is crucial in today’s world, where we sometimes compromise the discussion of real issues for the sake of political correctness.

Next J-Sachs quipped, “I can’t tell you how much fun it is to have you in our home.”

His upbeat introduction, however, was followed by more serious references to the Prime Minister’s recent speech in front of the General Assembly regarding the global economy. He urged the global audience to “build the demand and show what can be accomplished with the proper funding.”

“An agenda of hope, not an agenda of fear,” was the ideal for the next speaker, Jesús Caldera, Executive Vice President of the Ideas for Progress Foundation (more interpreter-fumbling!). Caldera, who served as the Minister of Labor under Zapatero, extolled the Prime Minister’s effort to improve human rights and the economy. “Social capital” above all, he remarked, is what leads us to progress.

“Commitment to a truly progressive agenda in Spain,” noted Joseph Stiglitz, CU professor and final introductory speaker, has been Prime Minister Zapatero’s biggest improvement. Stiglitz praised Zapatero for his innovative actions toward making his country freer, more socially secure, more diverse, and more tolerant.

Stiglitz’ repeated description of the prime minister as “a source of envy” for world leaders certainly set the tone for (finally) the sharp and encouraging analysis of Zapatero’s speech:

“The disappearance of poverty is conceivable,” emphasized the prime minister. Zapatero dove right into the issue of the global economy post-crisis, focusing on the necessity of cooperation on an international scale to curb the already devastating effects of the collapse. In line with the words of his preceding speakers, Zapatero honed in on the importance of dialogue between and mutual support among nations. The economy of today is unlike that of previous decades; the global interconnectedness of today’s world necessitates “international financial institutions” and a penchant for green. If we do not act against climate change,” he argued, “we cannot experience stable growth and development.”

And like any smart speaker, Zapatero brought the issue home with a little CU flattery. He reminded us of our history of political activism, referencing the student hunger strikes in the ’70s and urging us, as one of the “most prestigious academic institutions in the world” to open the floor for dialogue and debate.