Bolivian Like You

Time to ditch archaic ideas on homosexuality – The Irish Times – Fri, May 07, 2010

HOMOSEXUALITY IS caused by eating chickens, according to the Bolivian president ( The Irish Times , April 22nd).

The Bolivian president said no such thing, though this claim was widely attributed to him by media outlets.

What he said was:

“El pollo que comemos está cargado de hormonas femeninas, por eso cuando los hombres comen esos pollos tienen desviaciones en su ser como hombres”

Translated literally, that means “the chicken we eat is loaded with female hormones, and so when men eat those chickens they have deviations in their being as men.”

This has nothing to do with sexuality. Given that he also referred to the premature growth of breasts in girls as down to hormone-treated chicken in the same speech, it is perfectly reasonable to infer that he was referring to gynecomastia, or to sterility. Whether this represents a statement with basis in fact I am not equipped to judge.

In response to the controversy generated by the interpretation of the remarks widely disseminated by international media, the spokesman for Evo Morales held a press conference in which he said that under ‘no circumstance’ did he make reference to gay people during his speech.

Anyone familiar with the details of the new Bolivian constitution, introduced by the Morales government, much to the chagrin of the Catholic Church and the Latin American oligarchy with which it is intimately intertwined,  would have been instantly suspicious about the reported remarks. Under the new constitution, all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity are prohibited.

There are plenty of factors that need to be highlighted in explaining why Morales’s remarks were given so much coverage and were uncritically accepted as true in Europe and the United States.

First, because of the long established practice of representing poorer countries as intrinsically backward. In polite terms, this takes the form of an assumption that ‘developed’ countries should instruct ‘developing’ countries, without taking into account that the ‘developed’ status of the former is the result of the historical exploitation of the latter.

Second, with particular regard to Latin America. An effect of Orientalism was the development of a widespread public perception, in the West, of Arab and Muslim societies as unchanging sites of exotic licentiousness and capricious despotism. We see something similar occurring with Latin American countries, whose representation often relies on a mish-mash of grotesque images of violent strong-arm dictators, submissive and compliant women, cocaine barons and sweaty slobs, all against a backdrop of bowdlerised ‘magic realism’, according to which no tale is too outlandish to be dismissed as untrue. Both perceptions entail the counterpoint of the rational, sexually continent, hygienic, productive, civilised Westerner, whose own society is the engine of true progress for the barbarous subaltern.

Third, with regard to sexuality, since there is no fundamental contradiction between sexual preference and neoliberal doctrine concerning what passes for personal freedom (a multinational corporation, whilst basically a tyranny, will make plenty of self-congratulatory noise about ‘diversity’ and will allow LGBT societies even as it slashes pay and refuses to recognise unions), and since many advances have been made (not least through concerted struggle by gay rights organisations) it becomes an automatic assumption that progress with regard to LGBT rights can only be produced from within a neoliberal capitalist framework. Therefore, when it comes to Latin America, and in particular to a country where alternative societal model is being developed, and as such is considered as part of the official enemy, the notion that people there can make advances in this regard, and on their own terms, cannot be entertained.

Here is a video produced by the Bolivian Ministry of Health and Sport in 2009, and broadcast on national TV spots.

Translation:

Imagine, that because of your appearance, because of your way of being, or your identity, that they can push you to one side.

(That) if you had a son, a daughter, a nephew (or niece), a brother (or sister), a loved one who is bisexual, homosexual, transexual, lesbian, gay, and for this reason they were victim of discrimination.

Do something! Put a stop to it!

Me? I am gay.

I’m lesbian

I’m bisexual

We’re trans

We are Bolivians like you.

17th of May. Worldwide day against homophobia and transphobia. 28th of June. Gay, Lesbian and Trans Pride day.

The Irish Times with and its contributors have a lot to learn from the Bolivian people. The reverse is not true.

The preamble to the new constitution proclaims that the ‘neoliberal colonial republican state’ of the past has been left behind.

The text of the constitution says that, for instance:

  • ‘the only health system will be universal, free, equitable, intracultural, intercultural, participative, with quality, warmth, and oversight by society. The system is based in principles of solidarity, efficiency and mutual responsibility, and is developed through public policies at all levels of government.’
  • ‘Social security is provided under conditions of universality’.
  • ‘Social security services cannot be privatised or outsourced’.
  • ‘The state will promote the incorporation of women to the workplace and will guarantee the same remuneration to men for work of the same value, both in the public as in the private sector.’

And much, much more, which I plan to cover in another post when I get the time.

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11 Responses to “Bolivian Like You”


  1. 1 Dubhaltach May 7, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for that Hugh.
    The video doesn’t seem to be working though.

  2. 3 JG May 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Interesting. I have to admit I believed the story when I read it. He’s also alleged to have linked baldness with eating these chickens! And in this clip the subtitle says (I don’t understand Spanish so I don’t know if it’s accurate), “…in 50 years everyone in the world will be bald.”

    If he said that it’s easily as daft as the gay/chicken thing he seems to not have said.

    • 4 Jenn May 8, 2010 at 5:55 pm

      My spanish isn’t perfect but the word calvo (bald) is also the word for barren. It is possible that when he says “todo del mundo será calvo” that it means “the whole world will be barren”, meaning the soil will be infertile (as a result of the use of hormones and genetic modification in agriculture).

      I could be wrong but I doubt he’s claiming that the whole world will be bald…

      • 5 Hugh Green May 8, 2010 at 8:27 pm

        Actually, I think it’s pretty clear he meant ‘calvo’ in the sense of having no hair.

        La calvicie que parece normal es una enfermedad en Europa, casi todos son calvos, y esto es por las cosas que comen, mientras que en los pueblos indígenas no hay calvos, porque no comemos otras cosas”

        That is,

        ‘baldness that appears normal is a disease in Europe, they’re nearly all bald, and this is because of the things they eat, whereas among the indigenous peoples there are no bald people, because we eat other things’

        I understand that at this stage he pointed to his own luxurious mane. I would also point out that Evo Morales has been to Europe and is well aware that we are not nearly all bald. So I doubt he is conveying his most considered scientific analysis here: I think he’s just being a bit knockabout.

        You are right, Jenn, in saying he’s not claiming the whole world will be bald. ‘Todo el mundo’, in Spanish, is also the most common way of saying ‘everybody’. So he’s saying ‘everyone will be bald’, and the way in which he is saying it, I reckon, and I’m fairly confident about this, is not in the sense of ‘every single person on the planet will be bald’ but ‘there’ll be lots of bald people around’. I’d therefore take issue with the translation.

        I’d also make the point that if he had said nothing that allowed the ‘eating chicken makes you gay’ spin to be broadcast, no-one would be paying his remarks about baldness any attention at all because in the context it would be fairly clear that the style of speaking here is fairly relaxed and that he’s just using a bit of hyperbole.

  3. 6 Jenn May 8, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    As I said, my Spanish certainly isn’t perfect. I only watched the very short clip linked in JG’s comment. It seemed to select small parts of his speech out of context in order to make him look ridiculous. The only part mentioned was that eating GM food causes baldness and that in 50 years everyone would be bald.

    Spanish is a language in which many words have multiple meanings and it is therefore easy to twist words through translation. Given the obvious leaning of this particular clip (taken from a news report), and their endorsement of the premise that he claimed homosexuality is caused by eating chicken, I wrongly assumed that they were intentionally translating calvo as baldness rather than bareness.

    but thanks for the correction!

    • 7 Hugh Green May 9, 2010 at 12:51 pm

      Well, in general, reporting in relation to Bolivia (and also Venezuela), not only in Europe and the US but in Latin America as well, is a total disgrace. Lots of channels in the latter have a white supremacist bent to them, and will jump at any opportunity to represent indigenous people as buffoonish, backward, and so on. Seems to me that the clip is no different in that regard. Not sure if the translation is from an established channel, but it’s pretty clear the clip itself has been concocted, and edited, as you say, to make Morales look ridiculous.

  4. 8 DublinDilettante May 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Imagine the hilarity if a capitalist president came out with a stupid statement such as, for the sake of argument, that the XBox is destroying democracy. http://blogs.channel4.com/news/benjamin-cohen-on-technology/2010/05/10/obama-says-the-ipad-and-xbox-place-strain-on-democracy/

    • 9 Hugh Green May 10, 2010 at 11:46 am

      Or conversely, imagine if Hugo Chávez joked to Venezuelan musicians that if they weren’t careful with his daughters, he’d use deadly military technology to blow you to bits.

  5. 10 Jenn May 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    There is always a double standard and it’s usually less ethnic driven than political. For instance, there was international outcry and Ahmadinejad was condemended as a war mongering lunatic when one sentence of his speech was taken out of context, in which he claimed that he wanted Israel wiped off the map. This article (http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=174946) appeared in the Jerusalem Post and is a direct call for war but there has not been any noteable objection. If this article had been printed in an Iranian newspaper it would have been an international incident and quite possibly could have led to UN intervention or served as justification for Israeli aerial bombardment.

    Similarly, racism in Latin America against indigenous people and Evo’s humble background, are used as sticks with which to beat him. The real fear is that he might actually represent the poor majority rather than the wealthy elite. They portray him as backward and use ethnic and class prejudices to enforce these claims. The real objection, however, is that it is now considered politically backward to support workers, unions, farmers and peasants over the interests of investors, multinationals and financial traders (even if the former group represent the majority of your voting population).

    Both indigenous Latin American and Muslim identities are demonized in order to make governments that oppose neoliberal capitalism appear backward and incompetent. Racism is the unfortunate result but it is not necessarily the sole reason for such attacks.

    • 11 Hugh Green May 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm

      Agree with you re the article. However, there is an even more glaring example of the double standard, and that is what Netanyahu has been saying in his own declarations:

      So, just to get this straight … When the President of a partly-democratic, self-identified religious state with no nuclear weapons – whose regime stays in power through the violent suppression of a large number of the people it rules over – doesn’t say that Israel must be wiped off the map, he’s a genocidal monster, a threat to world peace, and a suitable target for regime change.

      But when the Prime Minister of a partly-democratic, self-identified religious state with 200 nuclear weapons – whose country can exist in the first place only through massive and continuing ethnic cleansing, and whose regime stays in power through the violent suppression of a large number of the people it rules over – really does describe Iran as an enemy that Jews are commanded by God to wipe out to down to the last man, woman, child, farmyard animal or whatever, we’re just fine with that?

      http://lawrenceofcyberia.blogs.com/news/2010/02/religious-looney-threatens-to-wipe-entire-nation-off-map.html


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