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Latin America: Shoes

We have had a solemn discussion about shoes as a symbol of status in Latin America. Those who ran the country had their shoes shined by shoeshines, about the lowest form of employment. Now that world has been turned upside down. Alejandro Toledo, President of Peru, worked as a shoeshine, and so did Lula da Silva, who will probably win the Brazilian presidency. The difference between them is that Toledo went on the study at Stanford and worked at the World Bank, assimilating US capitalistic culture. Lula da Silva, who has a minimum of formal education, was a great admirer of Fidel Castro, who never shined shoes. Whereas Toledo wears simple clothes, Lula now wears expensive suits, and his shoes shine. Who shines them? He is vague about his plans now, but his closest friend and biographer is a friar who seems to promote liberation theology, which is a Catholic version of justicialismo. "Clothes make the man"--and shoes in Latin America, I believe the friar is discalced, which means he wears sandals, thus avoiding the shoe antithesis.

Ronald Hilton - 10/8/02