World’s Poorest President

The lifestyles of political leaders are often far removed from those of their electorate. There is a clear exception to this rule. This is Jose Mujica, the president of Uruguay, who lives on a quiet farm and gives away most of his earnings to charity.

A ramshackle farm is the home of the Uruguayan president and his wife. Only two police officers and Mujica’s dog Manuela guard the house. Mujica rejected the luxurious house that was offered him with his initiation as president. He decided to stay at his wife’s farmhouse just outside the Uruguayan capital Montevideo.

The Uruguayan president has a monthly salary of about $12.000, of which he donates about 90% to charities to benefit small entrepreneurs and poor people. His only asset is his aging Volkswagen Beetle. This has caused him to be characterized as ‘the world’s poorest president’. ‘‘I can live well with what I have,’’ says Mujica. Uruguayans have typified Mujica as ‘‘a roly-poly former guerrilla who grows flowers on a small farm and swears by vegetarianism’’.

Mujica was elected president in 2009. He spend most of his past as part of the Uruguayan guerilla movement Tupamaros. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was shot six times and spent fourteen years in jail. Most of his imprisonment was spent in isolation. Eventually, in 1985, he was freed when Uruguay returned to democracy. The years that Mujica was imprisoned changed his outlook on life, he declares.

‘‘This is a matter of freedom,’’ says Mujica. ‘‘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.’’ Mujica accuses other world leaders of having a ‘‘blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world’’.

Although many sympathize with the way the Uruguayan president lives, this does not stop the criticism that is expressed about the functioning of the Uruguayan government. The Uruguayan opposition claims that the country’s actual economic prosperity has not resulted in greater development of the public services of health and education, and currently Mujica’s popularity is below 50%. But Mujica has little to worry. Under Uruguayan law, he is not allowed to seek re-election in 2014. Being already 77, it is also quite possible that he will retire from politics some time soon. 

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