By Ayesha Bashir
“I’m called ‘the world’s poorest president’ but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle and always want more and more”.
Jose Alberto Mujica Cordano or ‘Pepe’ as he was popularly known was the president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015 and before that was a guerrilla fighter with Tupamaros, was imprisoned for 13 years under military dictatorship in 1960s and 1970s and became a member of Broad Front a coalition of left-wing parties (you don’t say!)
He is also described as the world leader with a vision like no other, well because being poor and humble usually go hand in hand I guess. Here are a few reasons as to why that can be.
- Many would know this that Pepe unlike many of his kind, refused to live in the 100 year old presidential palace of and in fact chose to live in a one-bedroom house on his wife Topolansky’s farm with nothing more than two policemen for his protection. He believes:
“If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself.”
- He donates 90% of his salary for charity which is about $ 12,000 (hence the tag of poorest president) and most of this goes to single mothers, poor people and small entrepreneurs. Apart from that, his only personal wealth as in 2010 was his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle which is valued at $1,800, for which he was offered $1 mill from an Arab Sheikh but he refused saying, it would hurt the sentiments of those who pooled in to buy the car.
- His speech in Rio+20 conference in 2012, he bashed excessive consumerism saying that people lived prudently, within their means, then 7 billion people would have enough live to sustainable life (but god forbid, how can we do that? Live within our means? What does it even mean?). He himself rejected a joint energy dealwith Brazil that would have provided his country with cheap coal, because of his environment concerns.
- He is now opposed to war and believes in negotiations and tolerance. In fact he never even held any grudges for those who tortured him in his 13 years of confinement (and look at you, sulking over a reply you didn’t get) as he says:
“I suffered, but you can’t hold on to hatred. I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t lived through those years”.
- He accepted to take in detainees from Guantanamo Bay, calling the treatment of prisoners there a ‘disgrace’ and offered his full commitment and help in order to close the mad place that US was once so proud of.
- In 2014 Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana though he never smoked it himself but he thought that since prohibition has been a splendid failure, (clearly!) there’s a need to try something different. It will allow individuals to grow a certain amount and its distribution; sale and price will be regulated by the government. This will take the market away from traffickers (no, this can never happen in India, since corruption plays an important factor) and treat it as a public issue.
- It won’t be wrong to call Uruguay as one of the most liberal countries since apart from legalizing gay marriage it has also allowed for gay couples to adopt and serve in the armed forces (do you still need more reasons?)
- He legalized abortion up till the 12th week of pregnancy, though it met with criticism, but as they say, if you have to make a big change you better be prepared for haters. It is a big step towards women reproductive rights in a mostly orthodox Catholic Latin America.
- On 7 January 2015 a young Uruguyan man Gerhald Acosta posted on his Facebook recalling his experience:
“On Monday I was looking for a ride from Conchilla, and guessed who picked me up on the road? They were the only ones who would stop”. This is though a very small incident but in an important indication, of how, despite being the president, down to earth he was.
- This is my personal favourite reason of loving the man so much. He lives with his very adorable three-legged dog Manuela who once by accident came under Pepe’s truck and lost a foot, so he adopted him and they both became inseparable.
You legitimately don’t need any more reasons for loving the guy (I was floored when I first read about Manuela itself, didn’t need anymore). Though he wasn’t loved by everyone, but his reforms have brought about considerable changes in the economy of Uruguay that other countries should draw upon.
You must be having your own thoughts as to what are the qualities of an ideal leader. Do feel free to share, cause we guarantee that at least here you have full freedom of opinion.