Monday, April 26, 2010

'We respect gays': Bolivian government responds to outrage over President Evo Morales homophobic comments

The Government of Bolivia announced this morning that it had sent a letter to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual an Transgender Federation of Spain (FALGBT) in which they wished to "ratify" the respect towards sexual liberty as established in the Bolivian constitution ("Government of Evo Morales: We respect gays" RPP/EFE, April 26, 2010).

This comes a full week after Bolivian President Evo Morales stood on a podium at an international environmental conference hosted by his country and implied that eating chicken injected with "female hormones" might cause deviations in men.

The comments, which drew gasps of surprise and laughter from those gathered for the conference in the city of Tiquipaya, were first picked up by the Spain-based EFE news agency and then quickly made the international rounds through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

For the most part, supporters of Morales on the left spent the week pointing out that he never mentioned the word "gay" or "homosexual" in his statement without quite being able to explain what he meant by the "female hormones" causing "deviance" in men. Some also claimed that the worldwide attention that the comments drew were a ploy by capitalist media in developed nations to overshadow what was supposed to be a shining moment for Bolivia and Morales: An environmental conference that drew thousands of people throughout the world to challenge inaction on environmental issues by the world powers.

In the meantime, those on the right, particularly in Spain, grabbed on to the news to paint the left as silent when it came to standing up to homophobic left-wing figures. That wasn't quite correct either. Pedro Zerolo, the leading gay figure in Spain's Socialist Worker's Party was among a number of LGBT leaders who went to the Bolivian Embassy in Madrid and handed them a letter demanding an apology from Morales.

In fact, Iván Canelas, the presidential spokesperson who announced the letter this morning, said that it had been sent as a response to Zerolo's "personal protest" [UPDATE: As of 5:30PM EST, US time, Pedro Zerolo had yet to receive the letter; on his Twitter account he writes "Protests give results. It seems that the president, Evo Morales, has sent us a message in which he ratifies' his respect to sexual identity...", I asked him if he had received the letter and he said they had not as of now].

The full text of the letter was apparently not released but Canelas said that the message in the statement was that Morales "under no circumstance" was referring to homosexuality in a speech that specifically was addressing genetically modified foods.

"It has never crossed the President's mind, from any point of view, to attack the rights of homosexuals," said the spokesperson, adding that the Bolivian President was the one who pushed the new Bolivian Constitution and language which prohibits and bans any kind of discrimination based on gender, skin color, age or sexual orientation (see my past coverage: "New Bolivian constitution bans discrimination based on sexual orientation", Feb. 7, 2009).

As for me, I actually do not think Evo Morales is a homophobe, but I do think what he said was homophobic. His silence on what he meant by his words to this day is shameful (the letter sent this morning was sent by the government and apparently not by Morales himself or carrying his signature).

It also comes a full week after the statements were made and only after media such as the Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine and The Guardian had picked up on the bru-ha-ha.

Yes, those are capitalist instruments for world domination, as I am sure many will point out. But they all were pretty late to the game and by then Morales, who was probably hoping to be nominated for a Nobel prize as a result of the environmental conference, had -instead-  become the laughing stock of the world (and, guess what, his party members went ahead and nominated him anyway after the conference was over!).

In this case, he has nothing but himself to blame.

By the way, 38 different LGBT organizations which conform The TLGB Collective of Bolivia also sent a letter expressing their disappointment at their president's statements and the shock they feel that the words came from a president who they thought was friendly to their cause (Spanish-language letter below).

President Morales might consider responding to the LGBT citizens of his own country. One suggestion: Do it in your own words.

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