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Spain strives for American appreciation

Will Prime Minister Zapatero's visit to the White House give Spain a nudge on the international stage?

Following four years of disagreements over the Iraq War and a cold shoulder by the Bush administration, Spain’s political leadership launched its own sort of charm offensive on the new U.S. leadership. In a January speech defending his Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, Obama pointed to Spain’s investment in renewable energies as industrial leadership the President wants for America.

Even so, Elcano Royal Institute investigator Marta Jimeno Vines advanced findings at the seminar that “the classic stereotypes, the Hemingway paradigm, are fading, but the new images haven’t settled into middle America yet.”

From the shadows of international ostracism under General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship until his death in 1975, Spain has emerged as a democratic nation and influential member of the European Union. In the land renowned for bullfights and flamenco there co-exist Spanish companies that have become world leaders in banking (Banco Santander and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria — BBVA), infrastructure (Actividades de Construccion y Servicios — ACS, Sacyr and Ferrovial), and textiles (Zara, Mango, and Custo) — all doing business in the U.S.

“Spain has investment in the U.S. but it doesn’t have a product,” insisted Kagan. “There is no brand association with Spain.” Spain’s Foreign Trade Institute seeks to close the gap of understanding over Spanish brands with a multi-million dollar “Made in/Made by Spain” promotional campaign that began in the U.S. last year. Spain’s King Juan Carlos and its Crown Prince Felipe — a graduate of Georgetown University — have led delegations of Spanish businessmen on networking missions from New York to Florida.

But like Sorolla in his time, several Spanish analysts believe the people representing Spain today must play a role in the building of the country’s image. The fact that celebrities like Penelope Cruz, Pau Gasol and Rafael Nadal aren’t widely associated with Spain prompted Jimeno Vines to conclude, “we haven’t figured out how to capitalize on the achievements of these people for the good of the country.”