Why is the President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica’s so different from most of the world leaders?
He has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife's farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo. The austere lifestyle and the fact that he donates about 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity - has cause people to label him the poorest president in the world.
'I've lived like this most of my life,' he says, sitting on an old chair in his garden, using a cushion favoured by Manuela the dog. I can live well with what I have.'
His charitable donations helps poor people and small entrepreneurs sources indicates after donations his salary is roughly in line with the average Uruguayan income of $775 (£485) a month. The president's personal wealth declaration was $1,800 (£1,100), the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. In 2012 President Mujica added half of his wife's assets; land, tractors and a house reaching $215,000 (£135,000). The president’s declared assets don’t come close to Vice-President Danilo Astori's nor Mujica's predecessor as president, Tabare Vasquez.
President Mujica’s was elected in 2009, he spent the 1960s and 1970s as part of the Uruguayan guerrilla Tupamaros, a leftist armed group inspired by the Cuban revolution. He was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail. Most of his detention was spent in harsh conditions and isolation, until he was freed in 1985 when Uruguay returned to democracy. Those years in jail, Mujica says, helped shape his outlook on life. 'I'm called 'the 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,' he says.
'This is a matter of freedom. 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, I may appear to be an eccentric old man... But this is a free choice.” he says.
President Mujica worldview was on display at the Rio+20 summit in June of 2012 when he said 'We've been talking all afternoon about sustainable development. To get the masses out of poverty. But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left? Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet.'
The president accuses most world leaders of having a 'blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world.'
President Mujica chooses to identify himself with the average Uruguayan by choosing an austere lifestyle not because of popularity but because of his conviction. He stands as a good example of leadership that is identifiable with people, one that is...a high priest who is able to sympathize with the weaknesses of his people. The economy of the world is suffering while the Uruguayan economy is prosperous at the writing of this article. I wonder why that is?
He who has an ear, let him hear.