The name José Alberto “El Pepe” Mujica Cordano does probably not ring a bell. Still, he was the president of the Republic of Uruguay from March 2010 until March 2015. A sitting president cannot be reelected for a second consecutive term due to the Uruguayan constitution, and so he left the presidency to a democratically elected party member (Tabaré Vasquez).
Many people and media described José Mujica as ‘the poorest president in the world’ or as ‘the world’s humblest president’ due to his austere lifestyle. When instated as president Mujica refused all decorum coming with his new function, and stayed living on the farm he and his wife share in the outskirts of Montevideo, where they cultivate chrysanthemums for sale. He declined all the usual staff that came with the opulent palace, and insisted on driving his own car, an aging VW Beetle. He had not much use for his presidential salary of 12000$/month, and donated 90% of this salary to charities who benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs.
His road to power was bumpy and not unlike Nelson Mandela, having been shot and arrested many times when he was member of the Tupamaros movement – an armed political group inspired by the Cuban revolution. When the constitutional democracy was restored in Uruguay in 1985, Mujica was freed from prison and got amnesty.
In his first speech as president-elect he told the audience: “it is a mistake to think that power comes from above, when it comes from within the hearts of the masses (…) it has taken me a lifetime to learn this”, wanting other politicians and parties (who lost the elections) to join the efforts to make Uruguay a viable place for everyone.
When addressing the United Nations General Assembly in a long discourse about humanity and globalization in september 2013, he spoke about the dangers of the current financial system and the economic fallout of ordinary people. He urged the other states to consider a return to simplicity with an emphasis on lives founded on human relationships, love, friendship, adventure, solidarity and family, instead of lives shackled to the economy and the markets.
His legacy is among others a country with the lowest level of corruption worldwide, the legalization of cannabis, abortion rights for women, and the establishment of gay rights.
If only more ‘leaders’ would think a bit more with their hearts than with their wallet…
“The poor are not those who have too little, they are those who want too much” (José Mujica)
Love, yann ❤️