President of Bolivia Evo Morales has come under fire for calling his health minister a lesbian after seeing her speak to another woman while he gave a speech this week. According to the AFP, he told Ariana Campero, “I don’t want to think you’re a lesbian” — a statement Morales is now backing away from, claiming it was not his “intention to offend anyone.” “Calling someone lesbian or gay is not an insult or offense. The government and I do not have anything against anyone’s sexual choices,” Morales said.
As the youngest minister in Morales’ cabinet, 29-year-old Health Minister Campero has received offensive comments from other members of Morales’ staff. The country’s vice president recently told her, “Get married, minister,” and warned her that “showing your boyfriend ‘just how much you love him'” before marriage would leave her a single parent – all at a public event. The VP apologized, but only after his wife apparently expressed her disdain.
Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president and a leftist former union leader, describes himself as a “feminist, but one who tells macho jokes.” He’s been chided for sexist and homophobic behavior in the past, including a 2010 incident where he said chickens injected with female hormones are bad because men who eat the meat will “experience deviances in being men.”
Bolivia, which has a gender equality law, boasts great numbers of women in politics, though only six of the 21 cabinet ministers are currently women. According to the Pan American Health Organization, the nation also has the worst violence against women of any nation in Latin America. There were 33,000 reported cases in 2014.