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SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – President Evo Morales recently apologized to the gay community and said his government “respects sexual diversity,” according to spokesman Iván Canelas.
The apology comes a week after controversial statements made by Morales at the inauguration of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. While making his customary attacks on capitalism, Morales stated “the chicken men eat is full of feminine hormones and that is why there is deviation in their [masculinity],” alluding to male sexual orientation.
“President Morales made no mention of homosexuals, and in that regard we have responded to the Spanish organization that consists of lesbians and gays, and we ratified that we respect their sexual freedom,” said Canelas, responding to Spain’s national federation of lesbians, gays, transsexuals and bisexuals (FELGT), a Madrid-based gay and lesbian umbrella organization that had expressed concerns over Morales’ comments.
Meanwhile, the LGBT equality foundation, which has been an advocate for the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in Bolivia since 2007, sent a strongly worded letter last week to Morales urging him to clarify his remarks and apologize.
“It is not possible for a president to make such statements before the eyes of the world,” said Alex Bernabé, director of the LGBT equality foundation. “He has hindered civil rights advances and has prompted homophobia and intolerance in the community.”
Members of Bolivia’s gay community were frustrated by Morales’ comments. “[Evo Morales] went too far with his comments and made all Bolivians look bad,” said Juan de Pedro, a 24-year-old biochemist who identifies himself as gay. “The world wants a little wisdom and not a lot of intolerance, ignorance and discrimination.”
Besides the president’s words, the apparent double standard of the government on homosexuality sparked the rage of Bolivia’s gay community, according to Juana Durán, a 28-year-old college student who identifies herself as a lesbian.
“We are all scared,” she said. “Despite all the political discourse about change and the inclusion of minorities, human rights continue to be undermined and jokes continue to be made at the expense of those who have taken a different road and who have freely chosen our sexual orientation.”
Article 14 of Bolivia’s Constitution, approved in January 2009, states “the State prohibits and punishes any form of discrimination based on sex, color, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, origin, culture, nationality, citizenship, language, religious creed, ideology, political affiliation or philosophical beliefs, marital status, economic or social status, type of occupation, education level, disability, pregnancy or other factors that aim or have the purpose of nullifying or undermining the recognition, enjoyment or practice, on an equal basis, of the rights of everyone.”
Chicken producers also were offended by Morales’ comments, fearing it could result in a decrease in sales.
“It is not true, it’s an embarrassment, it’s unbelievable,” said Ricardo Alandia, president of the Bolivian national association of poultry farming, as quoted by the daily newspaper El Deber de Santa Cruz. “I do not know who told the president such a thing. We have irrefutable proof that we do not use hormones.”
Pablo César Groux Canedo, Bolivia’s vice minister of cultural development, said through a statement to the Mexican newspaper Excélsior that Morales’ comments “were badly misinterpreted” but that his statements “are true.”
Morales’ comments overshadowed the climate change conference, according to Pedro Shimose, a columnist for El Deber de Santa Cruz.
“Bolivia’s image (that’s the way they know us around the world) is more pitiful every day,” he wrote in a recent column. “If we continue exposing our disgrace through the media, we will isolate ourselves even more from a world that looks at us with pity or ignores us.”