A Bolivian deputy-elect is facing jail time for having publicly refused to shake the hand of leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales. While Norma Piérola claims she did so out of a respect for the Bolivian people, she now faces criminal racism charges as the government claims her refusal was based on Morales’ indigenous heritage.
During a national event in which she was to receive her legislative credentials following her election, Piérola, who belongs to the opposition Christian Democratic Party, entered a hall and greeted all the individuals seated before the audience, except for the president.
The refusal is pronounced, though she later denied she noticed the president extending his hand. She later said, when asked about the incident, “These hypocritical attitudes do not go with me. I do not recognize him as president, I can respect him as a person, but I will never give my hand to someone who harms Bolivians.”
She later said to the outlet Voice of America that she “didn’t realize that Mr. Morales was extending his hand to greet me. Regardless, I was not going to shake his hand, because I won’t do so until he ceases political persecution, allows exiles to return, and starts respecting the opposition, whose only offense has been to dissent from him.”
Viceminister of Decolonization Félix Cárdenas described Piérola’s behavior as “openly racist” and “an incitation,” while Morales himself told reporters at a press conference in Cuchabamba that he had “learned to withstand” these sorts of aggressions, and that he was “pleased” that Piérola belonged to the opposition party, as women of his party were “polite.”
Piérola has responded to the prosecution by calling Cárdenas lazy and what Mexican newspaper El Universal is calling “chupamedias”, a “sock-sucker,” or a sycophant. She has also responded on Twitter:
Me procesan por racismo. No salude por consecuencia ideológica no por racismo Si #EvoDictador seria rubio y ojos verde igual no lo saludaría
— Norma Pierola Valdez (@NormaPierola) December 4, 2014
The tweet reads: “They are prosecuting me for racism. I did not shake his hand for ideological reasons, not for racism. If #EvoDictator had blonde hair and blue eyes I would not shake his hand, either.”
Many on social media are comparing Piérola’s prosecution to that of Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado, a legislator who was banned from the National Assembly for traveling to the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington, D.C. to speak against the oppressive socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro. Shortly before being ousted, Maduro attacked Machado with tear gas, and is now prosecuting her for an alleged “assassination plot” in which Maduro has also implicated the United States government.