(SUCRE, Bolivia) — Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales is known for awkward statements. He once suggested that eating genetically modified chicken makes people gay. A few months later he asked Sean Penn to be his global ambassador for the coca leaf.
On Tuesday, Morales added yet another strange statement to his tally, when he admitted in public that he doesn’t like to read.
“I have that problem, I don’t like to read,” Morales said during an event, in which he announced a new law that eliminates sales taxes on books.
Morales said that friends and foreign visitors have given him dozens of books over the past few years, but he admitted that he rarely gets past the title. When he does, at most, he gets through a few chapters.
“I am sincere,” Morales said, adding that he’d like to read more but hasn’t found a way to “fall in love” with this activity.
Morales did not finish high school. He grew up in poverty in rural Bolivia and managed to become the country’s president thanks to his popularity among indigenous people and poor farmers, whom he represented for years as the head of Bolivia’s coca growers union.
Still, his honest statement on his reading habits generated a frenzy of online backlash from critics who argue that Morales’ lack of formal education has led to economic mismanagement. Morales, who sees himself as a socialist, has also been accused of acting as a “lackey” of Cuba and Venezuela.
“That is why the Cubans have put (ideas) in his head, which he repeats,” web user Pancho Fernandez wrote on a comments thread on the Peruvian news site, RPP. “You are a brute Evo.”
Supporters of Morales challenged these statements with arguments of their own.
“You are looking down upon a man who without an education became the president of his country? Jealousy of not achieving what Evo has achieved is what makes you say things like that,” web user Arturo Ortiz wrote in the same comments thread.
Regardless of his politics, or his lack of interest in reading, Morales is at least trying to make it easier for other Bolivians to read. The new law that Morales signed on Tuesday eliminates a 16 percent sales tax on books in Bolivia, a move that is expected to increase demand. It also calls for improvements in the country’s libraries.
When asked about what else he would do to encourage his countrymen to read more, however, Morales said that he had no idea.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
James Griffiths, CNN
Dave Gilbert, CNN
Roshni Majumdar, CNN
Holly Yan, Chuck Johnston and David Williams, CNN