. Simplicity is not leading a very simple life with bountiful wealth and luxury that one can lay hands on, but building no desire to have surplus resources in spite of living in abject penury situations.”
– Anuj Somany
This man was the World’s Poorest President, but the reason why he’s poor will surprise you! It’s my proud privilege to present José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano (Spanish pronunciation: [xoˈse muˈxika] .He is is a Uruguayan politician who was President of Uruguay between 2010 and 2015. Jose donated more than of 90% of his $12,000 per month salary to benefit the poor and to help small entrepreneurs. If we need more of anything in this world, it would be more people like this! There are idealistic, hard-working and honest politicians the world over – although cynics might argue they’re a small minority – but none of them surely comes anywhere close to the outgoing Uruguayan President when it comes to living by one’s principles. This man doesn’t put value on his appearance or clothes. He is criticized for his posture and clothes, but Jose puts more value on other things in life instead. Before his presidency, he was a guerilla fighter for Tupamaros, which acted like “Robin hood.” They literally robbed banks, gun clubs, and other businesses to give to the poor. He truly believed that his value was not in gaining more money, it was in the well-being of his country and people.
Let’s take a look at the bizarre sequence of events in the life of Jose before he became the President of Uruguay. In 1970 he was arrested but soon escaped Punta Carretas prison in a daring jailbreak. He was shot and wounded numerous times in conflicts with security forces. In 1972 he was imprisoned again, after which he remained in jail for more than a decade, including two years’ solitary confinement at the bottom of a well. In 1985 when Constitutional democracy was restored in Uruguay, he was released under an amnesty law. In 1994 when he was elected deputy, he surprised everyone by reaching the parliament building on a Vespa scooter. A bewildered parking attendant asked: “Are you going to be here long?” A confident Mujica replied: “I certainly hope so.”After winning the Presidential election in 2010 he surprised everyone, by announcing that the presidential palace would be included among the state shelters for the homeless.
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. Mujica was entitled to live in the beautiful Presidential house, but chose a more humble place to live. Turning down the invitation to live at a luxurious grace and favor residence owned by the state, he instead chose to reside at his ramshackle farm situated a few miles away from the country’s capital city of Montevideo. The only sign the country’s leader was at home were the pair of police officers who stood guard at the end of his heavily tractor-rutted dirt track. Water comes from a well which is surrounded by overgrown weeds and the laundry goes not in a tumble dryer but on the washing line outside.
He is an honest example of a President who gives up his own comfort for the well-being of others. He also planned to change the grand presidential house into a museum that pays honor to past Presidents. His part time farming job, keeps him aware of the struggles and life that most other people of his country go though. He also grows and then sells flowers from his farm. Jose’s protection consists of two guards and his 3 legged dog named Manuela. ‘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. In contrast to many western politicians who aim to amass property empires, Mr Mujica last year declared his total assets at just £135,000.
He says “my lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I’m the son of my soil. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress.” This President’s example is a testament to how we should live our lives. We don’t need more things to be happy. In fact, some of the wealthiest people in the world, have their wealth stored in the currency of unselfishness, kindness, and true love.
Wearing what could best be described as “casual” clothes, he’s never been seen wearing a tie. No wonder, Mr Mujica sits on a simple wooden stool in front of a bookshelf that seems on the verge of collapsing under the weight of biographies and mementoes from his political adversaries and allies. Books are important to the former guerrilla fighter who spent a total of 13 years in jail. It was an experience that almost broke him mentally and which shaped his transformation from fighter to politician. “I’ve no doubt that had I not lived through that, I would not be who I am today. Prison and solitary confinement had a great influence on me. It helped me to find my inner strength. I couldn’t even read a book for about eight years. “Given his past, it’s perhaps understandable why Mr Mujica gives away about 90% of his salary to charity, simply because he “has no need for it”.
He married Lucia Topolansky, his long-term partner and former co-revolutionary, in 2005.Not afraid to take a swipe at his fellow leaders, he adds: “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority. I’m living a normal life” In a 2012 interview with the BBC, he explained: “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. I have a way of life that I don’t change just because I am a President. I earn more than I need, so it’s my duty to help others. He says he has all he needs, and that material wealth does not buy happiness.
While most Presidents travel around in chauffeur-driven saloon cars, the former Uruguayan president drove his own beat-up Beetle. He was even offered $1m for the car by an Arab Sheikh, but said he didn’t give the offer “any importance”. He chooses to fly economy class .His magnanimity can be seen when he gives’ lift’ to hitch-hikers. It’s not often you get picked up by a world leader, but when Gerhald Acosta was walking between his home town and his place of work he was given a ride by Mujica and his wife The shocked hitch hiker told a local newspaper that it was only when he got into the car – the President’s iconic 1987 blue Volkswagen Beetle – that he recognized that the elderly couple was actually President Jose Mujica and his wife Sen. Lucia Topolansky. ‘When I got out, I thanked them profusely, because not everyone helps someone out on the road, and much less a President.’
Mr Mujica, who is sometimes described as the “President every other country would like to have,” dismisses all the adulation and attention with a waft of his hand, but he is not leaving the stage just yet. Maybe so, but this enigmatic leader remains an inspiration to many and is a reminder that politics is meant to be a humble and honorable profession.
While neighbouring Argentina and Brazil have suffered downturns in recent years, Uruguay has witnessed rising salaries and a historically low unemployment rate. Mr Mujica leaves office with Uruguay’s economy in better shape than its bigger neighbours. Poverty rates fell sharply while he was in office, and he famously launched the ‘One Laptop per Child ‘program, which to date has distributed more than 1 million free laptops to children and teachers around the country. The world-renowned Mujica is leaving office with a 65 percent approval rating, making him one of the world’s most popular Presidents. But he will perhaps continue to be Uruguay’s most famous President, having amplified its reputation as one of the most progressive countries in the region through his humble lifestyle and social legislation. He left his presidency the same way he entered it – driving his ’87 Beetle.