Is José Mujica The World’s Poorest and Humblest President?


. Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj. .

“I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.” – José Mujica,  President of Uruguay

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José Alberto "Pepe" Mujica Cordano, President of Uruguay.
José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano, President of Uruguay.

On September 20, 2012, in the article “‘Poorest president’ donates 90% of his salary” published in Yahoo! News, Claudine Zap wrote:

How’s this as a man of the people: The president of Uruguay, José Mujica, has earned a nickname, “el presidente mas pobre” (translation: “the poorest president”).

The 77-year-old recently admitted to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo that he donates almost all of his presidential salary, making him the poorest, or, as Univision pointed out, most generous president, in the world.

El presidente explained he receives $12,500 a month but keeps only $1,250. The public servant told the newspaper, “I do fine with that amount; I have to do fine because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less.”

He and his wife—a senator who also donates part of her salary—live in a farmhouse in Montevideo. His biggest expense is his Volkswagen Beetle, valued at $1,945.

Perhaps not surprisingly, under the former guerrilla fighter, who was elected in 2010 as a member of the left-wing coalition, the Broad Front, the country has become known for being one of the least corrupt on the continent.

Mujica has no bank accounts and no debt, and he enjoys one thing money can’t buy: the companionship of his dog, Manuela…”

The author of an article published in The Economist wrote that some Uruguayans see him as “a roly-poly former guerrilla who grows flowers on a small farm and swears by vegetarianism.”

In the article “After Years in Solitary, an Austere Life as Uruguay’s President“, published in The New York Times on January 4, 2013, Simon Romero, wrote:

“Some world leaders live in palaces. Some enjoy perks like having a discreet butler, a fleet of yachts or a wine cellar with vintage Champagnes. Then there is José Mujica, the former guerrilla who is Uruguay’s president. He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo’s outskirts with no servants at all. His security detail: two plainclothes officers parked on a dirt road.

In a deliberate statement to this cattle-exporting nation of 3.3 million people, Mr. Mujica, 77, shunned the opulent Suárez y Reyes presidential mansion, with its staff of 42, remaining instead in the home where he and his wife have lived for years, on a plot of land where they grow chrysanthemums for sale in local markets.

Under Mr. Mujica, who took office in 2010, Uruguay has drawn attention for seeking to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage, while also enacting one of the region’s most sweeping abortion rights laws and sharply boosting the use of
renewable energy sources like wind and biomass.”

A 1987 VW Beetle - All the president's wealth (Photo - bbc.co.uk)
A 1987 VW Beetle – All the president’s wealth (Photo – bbc.co.uk)

An article titled “José Mujica – The Simple Living President of Uruguay” published about 10 months ago in rewordit.org, the author wrote:

“Being selected as the fortieth President of Uruguay must have really been a proud moment for José Mujica, but this appointment was far different than the rest of politicians we’re accustomed to seeing in the world. At such a juncture, when anyone else would have loved driving into an elaborately manned and chauffeur-driven vehicle to reach La Residencia de Suarez – the presidential palace, Mujica was better off driving his 87 model of Volkswagen himself together with wife Lucia and spend some solacing moments at Montevideo.”

The above is what most media say about the 78-year-old José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano.

However, Mujica has his share of detractors in his own country. Adolfo Castells in his article “Folclórico deslumbramiento primer mundista” (Dazzling Folklore of first-world) says:

Mujica se presenta como ejemplo de político austero y abnegado, cuando en realidad sacrificio no hace ninguno porque no le gusta vivir confortablemente. Lo cual estaría en su perfecto derecho si no hiciese una suerte de exhibicionismo de la pobreza.

Translation: “Mujica presents himself as an example of austere and self-sacrificing politician, when actually sacrifice has nothing to do here because he does not like living comfortably. This would be in his perfect right if he did not use it to create a sort of exhibitionism of poverty.”

Castells scoffs at the media that says Mujica is a vegetarian:

“… en el colmo de la desinformación— afirma que nuestro Presidente es vegetariano. Seguramente piensa que los chorizos del Quincho de Varela están rellenos de berenjena y soja.

Translation: “… in the height of the disinformation — affirmed that our president is vegetarian. Surely they think that the sausages of Quincho de Varela are stuffed with eggplant and soya.”

Castells says that Mujica has successfully created the character ‘The poorest president’ like José Joaquín de Olmedo, who on October 9, 1820, declared the city of Guayaquil independent from Spain, and was Vice-President of Ecuador from 1830 to 1831. Castells says:

Ese personaje se disfraza de pobre, llama a la prensa cuando va a comprar la tapa de un WC,

Translation: “Mujica is so poor that he called the press when purchasing a lid for his WC,”

On January 8, 2013, Gerardo Sotelo in his article titled “Ejemplo” (Example) published in El País wrote:

“Suddenly, Jose Mujica appears in the New York Times and Korean television as ‘the world’s poorest president’. His austere lifestyle, which is in contrast to the pomp that surrounds most of their leaders, surprises foreign columnists. This international recognition leaves his followers spellbound, and his detractors full of resentment.”

Sotelo then goes on to compare José Mujica with Mahatma Gandhi:

“Are we witnessing the reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi or a skilled politician who hides behind his austerity, a life devoted body and soul to gain power?

For now, there is nothing to compare the testimony of the life of the Uruguayan president travelling in a [Volkswagen] Fusca and cooking his own stew, with Gandhi.

The Indian leader lacked all material goods, except sandals, a pair of glasses, a prayer book, and a covered bowl to eat his lean food. Much more important was that, even though Gandhi was able to gather all the political and religious power he wanted he did not accept any position. His detachment [from possessions] and did what his conscience dictated was the way to his freedom, and he knew the same could help his people to achieve their own freedom.

Detachment makes sense when it affects something that is treasured. Unlike most of his colleagues, including several left leaders, Mujica can live with very little because he does not find value in the comfort that some material possessions offer. Therefore, he spends part of his valuable time on more mundane chores such as cooking food for his bitch Manuela. So, what value does his renunciation achieve?

Gandhi fasted to urge his compatriots to fight unitedly for freedom.  His renunciation had enormous spiritual value because it was something that was necessary. We have not seen Mujica do anything like that.”

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 Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay -
Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay

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