Bolivia’s president has apologized for calling his health minister a “lesbian” in what appeared to be an off-the-cuff homophobic joke.
The incident occurred this week as President Evo Morales and Health Minister Ariana Campero delivered new ambulances to officials in Bolivia’s rugged Beni department.
As Morales delved into a speech on the challenges that health care centers face in the Amazonian province, he noticed Campero was distracted.
“We have to plan many things with the minister who is flirting over there,” Morales said turning towards Campero. “I don’t want to think you’re a lesbian,” the president said before resuming his speech.
Criticism rained down on Morales, and Bolivia’s main coalition of LGBT groups issued a lengthy statement urging the nation’s first indigenous president to “embrace” the fight for sexual rights and non-discrimination.
Bolivian opposition leaders went further, with a congresswoman from the Christian Democratic party calling on the government to investigate Morales for discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Morales responded on Tuesday with a brief written statement in which he said his government “does not have anything against” anyone’s sexual orientation. “I humbly and sincerely ask for an apology,” he said. “It wasn’t my intention to offend anyone.”
It’s not the first time Morales has made comments perceived to be homophobic. In 2010, the president apologized publicly after he suggested genetically modified chicken was provoking “deviations” among the men of a local indigenous community.
Campero has not commented publicly about Morales’ remark.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.