BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia's vice president is a plain-talking former leftist union leader with a common touch who often spices his speech with colloquialisms.
But Angelino Garzon's word choice proved controversial last week when he explained why he and other senior government officials had flown first class to Geneva, where he was a failed candidate for International Labor Organization secretary-general.
The political opposition seized on it, and set the Twitter social network abuzz.
"You can't make the president, or vice president or a minister live like a ragamuffin," Garzon, 65, told reporters last week after returning from Geneva.
Garzon used the Spanish word "zarrapastrosos," which means dingy and smelly and is regularly associated with unwashed beggars of low social class.
On Monday, Garzon said in a tweet directed to those who took umbrage that he mean no offense.
"I apologize publicly if I my use of the world 'zarrapastroso' was misinterpreted because I am proud of my humble origins."
It's not the first time in recent weeks that a senior Colombian official has generated controversy with a public statement.
After U.S. Secret Service agents were sent home from Cartagena during an April regional summit for alleged misconduct for hiring prostitutes, Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin made an off-the-cuff remark that made the social networks go wild.
"Where there's a man," said Holguin, "there is prostitution."