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The Face Of Integrity: Former Uruguayan president, Jose Mujica “world’s poorest leader”


Jose Mujica is an Uruguayan farmer and retired politician who served as the 40th President of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015 and was known as the “the world’s poorest leader” for his modest lifestyle as he gave away around 90% of his $12,000 monthly salary to charities that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs.

A former guerrilla with the Tupamaros, he was imprisoned for 12 years during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the mid-1960s, he joined the newly formed MLN-Tupamaros movement, an armed political group inspired by the Cuban Revolution. He participated in the brief 1969 takeover of Pando, a town close to Montevideo, leading one of six squads assaulting strategic points in the city.

Mujica’s team was charged with taking over the telephone exchange and was the only one to complete the operation without any mishaps.

In March 1970 Mujica was gunned down while resisting arrest at a Montevideo bar; he injured two policemen and was in turn shot six times. The surgeon on call at the hospital saved his life.

In 2005, Mujica married Lucía Topolansky, a senator and former vice-president, after many years living together, they have no children and live on a farm owned by Lucía in the outskirts of Montevideo, where they cultivate chrysanthemums for sale, having declined to live in the presidential palace or to use its staff. Also living at his farm is his three-legged dog, Manuela. He has drawn worldwide attention for his lifestyle.

Mujica and wife.
Mujica and wife.

The only possession Mujica had when he came into office in 2010 was his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.

The light-blue, beat-up Beetle became so famous that he was offered $1million (£780,000) for it in 2014, but turned the offer down because he said he would have no way of transporting his three-legged dog without it.

A member of the Broad Front coalition of left-wing parties, Mujica was Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries from 2005 to 2008 and a Senator afterwards.

As the candidate of the Broad Front, he won the 2009 presidential election and took office as President on 1 March 2010 to 2015. After his tenure as the president, he went further to become a senator.

Mujica’s political ideology has evolved over the years from orthodox to pragmatist. In recent times he has expressed a desire for a more flexible political left. His speaking style and manner are credited as part of his growing popularity since the late 1990s, especially among rural and poor sectors of the population.

In June 2012, Mujica’s government made a controversial move to legalize state-controlled sales of marijuana in Uruguay in order to fight drug-related crimes and health issues and stated that they would ask global leaders to do the same.

Mujica said that by regulating Uruguay’s estimated $40 million-a-year marijuana business, the state would take it away from drug traffickers, and weaken the drug cartels. The state would also be able to keep track of all marijuana consumers in the country and provide treatment to most serious abusers, much like that which is done with alcoholics.

Mujica passed same-sex marriage law and legalised abortion for women.

He has been variously described as an antipolitician and a man who speaks the language of the people while also receiving criticism for untimely or inappropriate remarks.

Jose Mujica has retired from the Senate to spend more time on his farm.

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