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 yesterday. 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!" he exclaimed, 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. "We all had to dress up like monkeys with ties."
The tirade was a light moment in an otherwise mostly sober gathering that focused on hunger, poverty, and inequality. But he 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 insistence on living simply: 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.