Worlds Poorest President

24 Mar

Jose Mujica: The world’s ‘poorest’ president

By Vladimir Hernandez BBC Mundo, Montevideo

Jose Mujica and his dogs outside his home

It’s a common grumble that politicians’ lifestyles are far removed from those of their electorate. Not so in Uruguay. Meet the president – who lives on a ramshackle farm and gives away most of his pay.

Laundry is strung outside the house. The water comes from a well in a yard, overgrown with weeds. Only two police officers and Manuela, a three-legged dog, keep watch outside.

This is the residence of the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, whose lifestyle clearly differs sharply from that of most other world leaders.

President Mujica 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 president and his wife work the land themselves, growing flowers.

This austere lifestyle – and the fact that Mujica donates about 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity – has led him to be labelled the poorest president in the world.

“I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”

“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 – which benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs – mean his salary is roughly in line with the average Uruguayan income of $775 (£485) a month.

President Mujica's VW Beetle

All the president’s wealth – a 1987 VW Beetle

In 2010, his annual personal wealth declaration – mandatory for officials in Uruguay – was $1,800 (£1,100), the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.

This year, he added half of his wife’s assets – land, tractors and a house – reaching $215,000 (£135,000).

That’s still only about two-thirds of Vice-President Danilo Astori’s declared wealth, and a third of the figure declared by Mujica’s predecessor as president, Tabare Vasquez.

Elected in 2009, Mujica 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.

Tupamaros: Guerrillas to government

Jose Mujica - in silhouette - speaking at a rally to commemorate the formation of the Frente Amplio

  • Left-wing guerrilla group formed initially from poor sugar cane workers and students

  • Named after Inca king Tupac Amaru

  • Key tactic was political kidnapping – UK ambassador Geoffrey Jackson held for eight months in 1971

  • Crushed after 1973 coup led by President Juan Maria Bordaberry

  • Mujica was one of many rebels jailed, spending 14 years behind bars – until constitutional government returned in 1985

  • He played key role in transforming Tupamaros into a legitimate political party, which joined the Frente Amplio (broad front) coalition

“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,” he says.

“I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”

The Uruguayan leader made a similar point when he addressed the Rio+20 summit in June this year: “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.”

Mujica 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”.

Mujica could have followed his predecessors into a grand official residence

But however large the gulf between the vegetarian Mujica and these other leaders, he is no more immune than they are to the ups and downs of political life.

“Many sympathise with President Mujica because of how he lives. But this does not stop him for being criticised for how the government is doing,” says Ignacio Zuasnabar, a Uruguayan pollster.

The Uruguayan opposition says the country’s recent economic prosperity has not resulted in better public services in health and education, and for the first time since Mujica’s election in 2009 his popularity has fallen below 50%.

This year he has also been under fire because of two controversial moves. Uruguay’s Congress recently passed a bill which legalised abortions for pregnancies up to 12 weeks. Unlike his predecessor, Mujica did not veto it.

President Mujica's house

Instead, he chose to stay on his wife’s farm

He is also supporting a debate on the legalisation of the consumption of cannabis, in a bill that would also give the state the monopoly over its trade.

“Consumption of cannabis is not the most worrying thing, drug-dealing is the real problem,” he says.

However, he doesn’t have to worry too much about his popularity rating – Uruguayan law means he is not allowed to seek re-election in 2014. Also, at 77, he is likely to retire from politics altogether before long.

When he does, he will be eligible for a state pension – and unlike some other former presidents, he may not find the drop in income too hard to get used to.


Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


19 responses to “Worlds Poorest President

  1. Sue Dreamwalker

    April 21, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    An amazing man.. would that more in his position could contribute in the ways he has shown.. as he lives his life on the level of those who votes brought him to such a position.. Again thank you for sharing… xxx Sue

    • The Emu

      April 22, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      Sets a great example doesnt he Sue, and coming from a poor country as well.
      Western politicians wouldnt read this story, for the simple fact it would prick their conscience.

  2. suzjones

    March 25, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    I reckon some of our pollies should read this. Or at least give up their pensions that are still more than the average person earns.

    • The Emu

      April 21, 2014 at 11:28 am

      Hi Sue, glad you enjoyed that story.
      What a great example from this President.
      Pity there are not other world leaders like him.
      Agree that our politicians pensions need to be looked at
      maybe bought in line like all Australians pensions
      and that is indexed to the average weekly way and CPI
      Emu aka Ian

      • suzjones

        April 21, 2014 at 8:19 pm

        And don’t even get me started on the yearly pay rises.

        • The Emu

          April 22, 2014 at 12:17 pm

          Hows that NSW politicion resigning over the $3000 dollar bottle of wine saga, he gets a yearly pension over $125 thousand with an option of $1.6 million lump sum payout, he doesnt even look like retiring and now they are going to put up the retirement age.
          Politicians are ripping of this country for millions.
          Pissed off Emu

          • suzjones

            April 22, 2014 at 9:04 pm

            I can’t believe the pensions that these guys get. I’d like to see them live on the pensions that the real people live on.

  3. penpusherpen

    March 25, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    What a fantastic character, Aussie Emu, and so rare too, a completely honest and down to Earth politician… It was such a pleasure to read about him. Many thanks for sharing. xPenx

    • The Emu

      April 21, 2014 at 11:26 am

      Hi Pen, glad you enjoyed that story.
      What a great example from this President.
      Pity there are not other world leaders like him.
      Emu aka Ian

  4. Doris

    March 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I Emu Ian,
    have a great evening my friend

    • The Emu

      April 6, 2014 at 8:15 am

      Hi Doris, lovely to hear from you.
      Here it is the 6th April and evening
      Catching up on my internet comments.
      A pleasure to have your visit
      Hoping you are well and life is being kind to you.

  5. Clowie

    March 25, 2014 at 10:02 am

    That’s very interesting and he makes some good observations.

    • The Emu

      April 6, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Hi Clowie, I agree with you.
      A pity more of the leaders around the world
      could not follow in his footsteps
      and set an example.

  6. prenin

    March 25, 2014 at 5:20 am

    What. A, Dude!!! 🙂

    If Cameron was expected to do the same he wouldn’t be in politics!!! 🙂

    God Bless!


    • The Emu

      April 21, 2014 at 10:54 am

      Not many politicians in the world today, would have the guts to live like this leader Prenin.
      Apologies for the late delay in responding mate, time just seems to fly these days.

  7. wonkywizard

    March 25, 2014 at 1:09 am

    I hope our political leaders will read this piece. Not expecting them to do the same, it will be impossible, but, just not to be too greedy!

    • The Emu

      April 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

      Dont think too many world leaders would be able to follow in this great mans footsteps.
      A great example he has set, political leaders wouldnt like to read this story, for the simple reason
      It would prick their concience.
      Hope you had a great Easter.
      Wishing you well.
      Kind regards
      Emu aka Ian

  8. jasmindamaro

    March 24, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    du hast immer etwas besonderes mit zu teilen liebe dich mit allen deinen abenteuern und erlebnissen du bist ein weiser mann big hug von jasmin damaro

    • The Emu

      April 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      Vielen Dank für einen schönen Kommentar Jasmine.
      Ich bin froh, Sie genießen meine Beiträge und meine Geschichten.
      Ana und ich hoffen, dass Chile in diesem Jahr für einen Urlaub zurück.
      Chile ist anfällig für Feuer und Erdbeben, wie es auf der geographischen Erdbebengürtel .
      In der Hoffnung, Sie sind gut und genossen einen schönen Oster Jasmine.
      Herzliche Grüße und viel Segen.


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