HAVANA (AP) — War! Imperialism! Racism! Formal attire!
One after another, the leaders of Latin America denounced the ills of the world at a regional summit in Cuba on Wednesday.
It fell to famously casual Jose Mujica, the Uruguayan president, to tackle a subtler evil plaguing humankind: the business suit.
“We have to dress like English gentlemen!” exclaimed Mujica, clad in a rumpled white shirt. “That’s the suit that industrialization imposed on the world!”
“Even the Japanese had to abandon their kimonos to have prestige in the world,” he continued, gesturing forcefully and rapping a pen on the table to punctuate his words. “We all had to dress up like monkeys with ties.”
Mujica’s tirade was a light moment in an otherwise mostly sober gathering of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that focused on hunger, poverty and inequality.
But Mujica was also trying to make a serious point: That Latin American leaders must stay faithful to their cultural roots and not alienate the common man in a region where the wealthy are a tiny minority.
Mujica is known for his homespun oratory, cantankerous personality and insistence on living simply in a world of conspicuous consumption.
Even as president, he still lives on a small, ramshackle flower farm with his wife. He gives away nine-tenths of his salary, doesn’t have a bank account and drives a VW Beetle that’s more than four decades old.
“To be free you have to have time, a little bit of time, to live, to cultivate the three, four, five unquestionable, fundamental things that are important in life,” he said in Havana. “All the rest is noise and fuss.”
Mujica is also famous for never wearing a tie.
Wednesday was no exception.