José Mujica was the president of Uruguay until March 2015. He’s also one super cool guy. The world of politics is awash with sweaty plums draped in immaculate suits and smiles. They walk the earth sheltered by their moronic advisors and fat cheque books.
José Mujica is a different breed, it seems he actually cares about his people? That sounds like mad talk to most people in most countries. A politician that says what he believes, believes what he says and actually tries to do a good and honest job. It almost sounds like a joke.
As President he earned around £7,500 per month but donated about 90% to charities that help sort out poor people and small businesses.
He was born to poor parents and in the early 60’s joined the Tupamaros movement, an armed political group inspired by the Cuban revolution. He’s spent his life fighting for the freedom of his people and was imprisoned twice, picking up 6 bullet holes after escaping. In all, he served 14 years in prison. Ten of those years were in solitary and for two of those he was confined to the bottom of a well. Befriending a rat and a frog helped him retain his mental faculties.
The presidential palace is pretty top-notch looking:
…but he doesn’t live there. Mujica, even during his presidency, lived on a farm on the outskirts of Montevideo with his wife who was also a member of the resistance movement. He works part-time as a farmer and cultivates chrysanthemums to sell.
Does he have a banging ride to get about in? Well, yes, he’s got a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle:
Even when in power, Mujica had just two guards and a three legged dog looking after him, he trusts his people. Trust has to be earned and it sounds like he’s managed that pretty well.
During his five year Presidency (2010-2015) he moved to legalise state-controlled sales of marijuana in order to fight drug-related crimes and health issues. He was pro same-sex marriage and pro abortion rights; he was also a big supporter of renewable energy. He didn’t like to be called the ‘poorest president’ though, he said…
It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.
See, I told you he’s a dude.
I wrote the above article a few months ago, but I’m adding this new ending because another facet of Mujica‘s term has recently come to the fore. Last October Mujica once again put his lack of money where everyone else’s mouth should have been. He promised to open his summer retreat to an estimated 100 Syrian children (each one accompanied by one adult relative). The Uruguayan government payed the expenses bill.
When you compare that to Obama, who in 2013 let in precisely 31 Syrians to his massive country, despite 135,000 applying for asylum. Virtually all were rejected because of their anti-terrorist laws.
Mujica’s wife says that the taking in of refugees is an attempt to…
…motivate all the countries of the world to take responsibility for this catastrophe.
Of course, 100 Syrian refugees being homed is a drop in the ocean, but it is at least a step in the right direction and a show of solidarity that other superpowers (looking at you UK and US) are yet to get involved in. Mujica has met with some dissent from his party’s opponents who have said he needs to sort out the poor in his own country before helping others, a point of view mirrored in the UK press (at least before the dead baby washed up in front of a camera lens).
But I suppose the wider point is that someone in power made a very public stand, someone who’s country is not particularly rich in the first place dared to lend a hand.