Evo Morales’ Sweater

For the past week Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales has been on a whirlwind tour of Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The trip could aptly be called “Where’s Evo,” referring not only to Morales’s travels, but to a trademark striped sweater now the subject of an international debate over manners and hidden messages.

The controversy started in Spain; the sweater had given no offense to Chávez or Castro, but left various members of Spanish press and society appalled after Morales met with King Juan Carlos in, gasp, a red and blue wool pullover. (It probably doesn’t help that Morales appears to be sticking his tongue out in some photos.)

Antonio Burgos of the newspaper “ABC” implied that even a Spanish doorman has better dress protocol and asked, “Is there no one who might lend Mr. Morales a dark suit in a pinch?” Like many indigenous Bolivian men Morales doesn’t wear suits on formal occasions and instead favors sweaters and leather jackets.

Burgos is condescending, but Jorge Berlanga’s article in “La Razón” goes much further. Berlanga’s commentary stinks of racism, comparing the president-elect to children on UNICEF postcards, a non sequitur akin to saying Nelson Mandela resembles someone out of a Sally Struthers commercial. It’s not Morales’ clean, new sweater that leads Berlanga to make this bizarre connection. It’s his being indigenous. Morales is not dressed at all like a child from a UNICEF card, but he is of the same color.

The sweater and Evo Morales are not without fans. In an article in “El País” published on January 9, Manuel Rivas said Morales’s sweater is a protest, metaphorically knit of “basic unsatisfied needs,” and suggested respect for the garment as a symbol of Bolivia’s want.

And in an ironic bit journalist Rosa Belmonte called the sweater a message and compared it to the uniform of les sans culottes of the French Revolution, poorly dressed volunteers whose lack of knee breeches stood for their struggle against the bourgeoisie.

But it’s not even a sweater. It’s a chompa, a hand knit indigenous pullover of alpaca wool considered appropriate and even refined in Bolivia, which is of course where Morales is from.

The debate over a sweater before Evo Morales has even taken office shows perhaps the central challenge to his presidency; everyone has something to opine about Morales and so little of it involves his political platform. According to publications such as the Spanish sources above, Morales is not only a boor but a renegade who may appropriate the Spanish petroleum giant Repsol. American publications including “The New York Times” and “The Wall Street Journal” have depicted Morales as the “second coming of of Che” (NYT) and the new threat to liberty in Latin America (WSJ).

Even a superficial reading of Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) politics shows that Morales is hardly another Che. MAS is frequently moderate. For example, the party wants to renegotiate contracts with transnational petroleum companies rather than the confiscation and nationalization pursued by radical social movements such as the Regional Workers Central (COR) or the neighborhood collective (FEJUVE) of El Alto, the indigenous city above La Paz. When protest by those movements resulted in the resignation of Carlos Mesa last June, Morales wasn’t even present. Radical social movements worry that Morales may ultimately fail them.

Both criticism and praise of Evo Morales’s wardrobe is smoke and mirrors. It’s likely he isn’t trying to insult kings and presidents, nor is he sending messages about poverty and revolution. Morales isn’t President Bush or President Zapatero; when he puts on a pullover it isn’t a PR move meant to reveal disregard or resolve, or even a regular guy. He’s long been the latter. He’s wearing his clothes. If only Morales’s politics were scrutinized as closely as his wardrobe.

ANNIE MURPHY is a freelance journalist living in La Paz. She can be reached at: murphy.annie@gmail.com


More articles by:
April 07, 2020
Joel McCleary – Mark Medish
Paradigm Shift by Pandemic
Matt Smith
Amazon Retaliation: Workers Striking Back
Kenneth Surin
What The President Said (About The Plague)
Patrick Cockburn
The Chaotic Government Response to COVID-19 Resembles the Failures of 1914
Marshall Auerback
The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Opened the Curtains on the World’s Next Economic Model
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Trump Sends Gun Boats to Venezuela While the World Partners to Fight a Deadly Pandemic
Jeremy Lent
Coronavirus Spells the End of the Neoliberal Era. What’s Next?
Dean Baker
The Big Hit: COVID-19 and the Economy
Nino Pagliccia
A Simple Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela: End All “Sanctions”
Colin Todhunter
Locked Down and Locking in the New Global Order
Robert Fisk
Biden Says He ‘Doesn’t Have Enough Information’ on Iran to Have a Vew. How Odd, He Negotiated the Nuclear Deal
Wim Laven
GOP’s Achievement is Now on Display
Binoy Kampmark
Boastful Pay Cuts: the Coronavirus Incentive
Dave Lindorff
It’s Spring and I’ve Turned 71 in a Pandemic-Induced Recession
Steve Brown
FLASH! Trump Just Endorsed Bernie’s Medicare-For-All Health Plan
Marc Haggerty
Class and COVID-19: Those Who Can and Those Who Can’t
Manuel García, Jr.
A Reply to Jeffrey St. Clair’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”
George Wuerthner
How Fuel Breaks Fuel Fires
Marshall Sahlins
Election 2020
April 06, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism
W. T. Whitney
Donald Trump, Capitalism, and Letting Them Die
Cesar Chelala
Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer
David A. Schultz
Camus and Kübler-Ross in a Time of COVID-19 and Trump
Nomi Prins 
Wall Street Wins, Again: Bailouts in the Time of Coronavirus
Dean Baker
Getting to Medicare-for-All, Eventually
Dave Lindorff
Neither Pandemic Nor Economic Collapse is Going to Be a Short-Lived Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
Capitalism in America Has Dropped the Mask: Its Face is Cruel and Selfish
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 7 Pro-Contagion Reversals Increase the Coronavirus Toll
David Swanson
A Department of Actual Defense in a Time of Coronavirus
Ellen Brown
Was the Fed Just Nationalized?
Jeff Birkenstein
Postcards From Trump
Nick Licata
Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image
Kathy Kelly
“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”
Graham Peebles
Change Love and the Need for Unity
Kim C. Domenico
Can We Transform Fear to Strength In A Time of Pandemic?
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Files Lawsuit to Stop Logging and Burning Project in Rocky Mountain Front Inventoried Roadless Area
Stephen Cooper
“The Soul Syndicate members dem, dem are all icons”: an Interview with Tony Chin
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper