President José Mujica of Uruguay knows life can be hard, miserable, and unfair. After all, he has almost lived a full life of 78 years, spent 14 of them in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, when he was still a Marxist guerrilla.
He paid a recent visit to the United States to meet President Obama and speak before various audiences at various events. On one of the events, he undauntedly told the US president that Americans should smoke less and learn more languages. He also gave a lecture about the benefits of wealth redistribution and raising workers’ salaries to a room full of businessmen at the US Chamber of Commerce. To students at American University, he said that there are no “just wars.”
Whoever his audience was, he spoke extemporaneously and honestly that it was not hard for them to love the president. Also see Humble Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica drives a ’87 VW Beetle
Here are the reasons people love him. After reading this, you might als in love with President Mujica.
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1. His administration focuses on redistributing the nation’s wealth, reducing poverty from 37% to 11%.
“Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce,” he told businessmen at the US Chamber of Commerce. For Mujica, the most important investment the government can make is human resources. The less poverty, the more commerce. The redistributive policies his government implements include setting prices for essential commodities such as milk and providing free computers and education for children.
2. He supported to the legalization of marijuana in Uruguay.
Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana. Consumers, sellers, and distributors are licensed to grow a certain amount each year, however it is the government that controls the price of marijuana sold at pharmacies. The legalization aimed to take the market away from drug traffickers and treat drug addiction as a public health issue. “In no part of the world has repression of drug consumption brought results,” Mujica said. “It’s time try to something different.”
3. He fearlessly confronts corporate abuses, including waging against the American tobacco giant Philip Morris.
Mujica was once a smoker so he knows from first-hand experience that tobacco is a killer that needs to be brought under control. Uruguay makes another record as the first Latin American country and the fifth nation in the world to implement a ban of smoking on enclosed public places. Philip Morris has sued Uruguay for $25 million at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes because of the country’s strict smoking laws, prohibiting smoking in enclosed public spaces and requiring warning labels that includes graphic images of the health effects.
4. He opposes war and militarism.
When he spoke to the students at American University, he told them how the world spends $2 billion for the military. But to former guerilla disapproves wars, no matter how “noble” their causes are. “Now I think the only solution is negotiations,” he said. “The worst negotiation is better than the best war, and the only way to insure peace is to cultivate tolerance.”
5. He lives a simple life and shuns any of the perks of the presidency.
Mujica does not reside at the Presidential Palace or have a motorcade wherever he goes. Instead, he lives in a one-bedroom house on his wife’s farm and drives a 1987 Volkswagen. When asked why, he would refer back to his time in prison. “There have been years when i would have been happy just to have a mattress,” said Mujica. He donates more than 90% of his $12,000 monthly salary to charity, making himself equal with the average citizen of his country. He was once named “the poorest president in the world,” of which Mujica commented, “A poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more and more. I don’t live in poverty, I live in simplicity. There’s very little that I need to live.”
6. He’s an environmentalist and a minimalist.
“We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction,” Mujica said at the Ri0+20 Summit in 2012, criticizing the model of development pushed by affluent societies. He had also reject Brazil’s proposal of a joint energy project that would have provided cheap coal energy for his country. He’d rather sacrifice that ‘luxury’ than ruin the environment.
7. He owns a three-legged dog named Manuela.
Mujica was driving a tractor when he accidentally ran over his dog, causing it to lose a foot. Since then, Mujica and Manuela have been almost inseparable.
8. Next to Argentina, Mujica’s country is the second in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. He signed the bill in August 2013.
“Not to legalize it would be unnecessary torture for some people,” he said. Legalizing what other countries deem legal means you recognize reality. Recently, Uruguay has also moved to allow adoption by gay couples and for gay people to serve in the armed forces.
9. He has offered to release detainees held at Guantanamo.
He has called the detention center at Guantanamo Bay a “disgrace” and Uruguay should be responsible for helping to close the facility. Although many Uruguayans disapprove of this, Mujica said he is “doing this for humanity.” After all, he knows what it feels to be a political prisoner.
10. He supported the legalization of abortion in Uruguay when his predecessor vetoed the bill.
The abortion law, though, is limited, allowing abortion within the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy. Women are also required to meet with doctors and social workers to discuss the risks and possible effects of an abortion. This law is the most liberal abortion law in socially conservative Catholic Latin America and is clearly a step in the right direction for women’s reproductive rights.
Uruguay is just a tiny country of only 3 million people but it has an influential leader who can come up with alternatives and innovations, putting Uruguay on the map as one of the world’s most exciting experiments in creative, progressive governance.