On this date in 1935, José Alberto Mujica Cordano was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. President of Uruguay from March 1, 2010 to March 1, 2015, Mujica is world renowned as a champion of the poor. Among his achievements in office, Uruguay legalized state-controlled sales of marijuana, allowed abortion, and brought about same-gender marriage.
Mujica was a former urban guerrilla fighter with the Tupamaros and was imprisoned for 13 years during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. After his release in 1985 he and many Tupamaros joined other left-wing organizations to create the Movement of Popular Participation, a political party within the Broad Front coalition. Mujica served as a deputy, a senator, and as Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries from 2005 to 2008. As the candidate of the Broad Front, he won the 2009 presidential election. He was preceded by Tabaré Vázquez, who also has succeeded him as president.
He was certainly among the world’s poorest and most humble presidents, as he donated almost 90 percent of his monthly salary to charities. He and his wife, Sen. Lucía Toplansky, whom he met in the Tupamaros, continued to live on a simple farm in the outskirts of Montevideo where they grow chrysanthemums for sale. They declined residency in the opulent presidential palace and the use of its staff. Their lifestyle is a powerful, visible protest against excessive consumption. Mujica is a professed atheist and vegetarian – itself a strong statement in such a meat-centered economy.
In 2013, the Economist magazine named Uruguay, with Mujica as head of state, as the “country of the year.” Mujica is one among a new generation of Latin American leaders who have emerged from the grassroots to guide the area away from U.S. political and economic domination. President Mujica visited the White House and counseled President Obama on the necessity of restoring relations with Cuba and freeing the Cuban Five.
Frank, fearless, bold, and outspoken, Mujica thinks about the future philosophically. “We can recycle almost everything now,” he has said. “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. But we think as people and countries, not as a species.”
Mujica addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, telling them, “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…. It’s no mystery – the less poverty, the more commerce. The most important investment we can make is in human resources.”
He leaves a testament to his nation: “My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay, to help the most vulnerable and to leave behind a political way of thinking, a way of looking at the future that will be passed on and used to move forward. There’s nothing short-term, no victory around the corner. I will not achieve paradise or anything like that. What I want is to fight for the common good to progress. Life slips by. The way to prolong it is for others to continue your work.”
Happy 80th birthday, José Mujica! Que viva!
From combined sources.