- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President-elect Evo Morales has drawn curious looks and caused something of a stir — not so much with his leftist policies, but with the alpaca sweater he wore to greet heads of state at almost every stop on his world tour.

Now Bolivians looking for clues to his leadership style are wondering what he will wear for his inauguration tomorrow: the infamous sweater, an Indian poncho, or a suit and tie.

Fashion speculation got almost as much attention as Mr. Morales’ plans to nationalize Bolivia’s natural resources during his tour of Europe, Asia and Africa, in which he wore the same striped maroon, blue, gray and green pullover while warmly greeting everyone from the president of China to the king of Spain.

Mr. Morales has stuck to his humble roots. He is an Aymara Indian who grew up in extreme poverty. A yearbook-style photo from 1977 is the only image that has surfaced of Mr. Morales in a suit and tie.

His favorite outfit is black Wrangler jeans, a short-sleeve shirt and sneakers; though since winning the presidency, he has begun wearing a leather jacket, slacks and — of course — the sweater.

“The garment of discord, far from official protocol,” Mexico’s Reforma newspaper said about it, running a page full of pictures. “For the Bolivians, this is a fine sweater of alpaca, which is a Bolivian export. For the Spanish press, it’s an offense to its good customs.”

Mr. Morales is not the first leader to create an image with unconventional attire.

Cuba’s Fidel Castro, one of the Bolivian leader’s political heroes, is rarely seen without the green military fatigues that have helped make him a revolutionary symbol. Afghan President Hamid Karzai wears his signature karakul hat and flowing robes. Indian freedom fighter Mohandas K. Gandhi wore sandals and wrapped himself in traditional robes.

In Paris, Mr. Morales appeared more cosmopolitan, opting for the leather jacket while greeting French President Jacques Chirac. Mr. Morales later doffed it, revealing a short-sleeved shirt.

Mr. Morales didn’t find a kindred fashion spirit until he reached South Africa, where African National Congress Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe hugged him in a casual khaki vest. Even under a 95-degree sun in Pretoria, Mr. Morales wore the ubiquitous sweater.

Some Bolivians think their new leader ought to dress more formally.

“I believe the norms of protocol should be respected,” said Edwin Orellana, a La Paz City Hall worker who was dressed in a suit. “He [could] put on a hat or some small thing that demonstrates he’s dressing as an indigenous.”

Beatriz Canedo Patino, who runs a fashion house in La Paz, disagreed. “In order to be elegant, a man doesn’t necessarily have to wear a tie,” she said. “True elegance, it comes from within.”

If Mr. Morales were to suddenly change the way he dressed, many Bolivians would criticize him, said Juan Mamani, a street cobbler.

“The men with ties have ruled Bolivia a long time, and they’ve done nothing; they’ve cheated Bolivia,” he said.

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