Can Uruguay's Pauper President Be an International Role Model?
Far from questing after the fame and fortune that often accompanies state-sanctioned power, Mujica prefers to live quietly with his wife and their three-legged dog in a farm house.
What's the Latest?
Uruguayan President Jose "Pepe" Mujica is among the rarest of heads-of-state thanks to his generous and humble personality. Far from questing after the fame and fortune that often accompanies state-sanctioned power, Mujica prefers to live quietly with his wife and their three-legged dog in a farm house. Having declined an official state residency, he also donates 90% of his presidential salary to charity. Yet he rejects the notion that he is poor, saying: "Those who describe me so are the poor ones... My definition of poor are those who need too much. Because those who need too much are never satisfied."
What's the Big Idea?
To be sure, Mujica's personality has tempered since his days as a Marxist guerrilla fighter, a status for which he would spend 14 years in jail. But the pauper president seems to have taken every event in his life as a lesson on how to do good in his official station. "Earlier this year, he offered Uruguay as a refuge for six Arab detainees from the illegal US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay," partly, he says, as a result of his own time spent in prison. Besides granting a small number of Syrians refugee in Uruguay, his policy of legalizing marijuana has transformed the war on drugs, which may become a model in violence-plauged countries like Mexico.
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Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.