Forgive me for being so ignorant but I only recently learned of Uruguay’s president and his refreshing approach to being in a position of power. Whilst many Western leaders fiddle with their expenses, have extra-marital affairs and generally lead corrupt lives which benefit their rich comrades and the rest of us suffer the recession, José Mujica rejects this.
78 year old Mujica was voted into power in 2010, and has since lead an austere lifestyle in rural Uruguay. He refused the invitation to reside in Uruguay’s lavish presidential palace, in favour of his own modest one bedroom farm, where he grows chrysanthemums for sale. His security system reportedly consists of two guards at the foot of his driveway, along with his three-legged dog Manuela. No imposing bodyguards, CCTV, buzzers, codes, secret tunnels… Just a modest, minimal effort to protect himself and his wife. After I read this, I was eager to learn more. I will avoid too much political talk as I am too uninformed of Uruguay’s political history. Instead, I want to share with you an inspirational man who could teach us all a thing or two.
Mujica was born in 1935, and grew up during a time in which a constitutional democracy was absent in Uruguay. This lead him to join the Tupamaros guerrilla movement, which amongst other arguably more serious crimes, involved stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. As a result, he was apprehended by police on several occasion, one of which he was shot six times. He served a total of fourteen years in jail as a political as a political prisoner, before being released in 1985 under a new law which prevented the incarceration of political and military criminals.
Since coming to power in 2010, Mujica donates 90% of his monthly salary to charities and small businesses. He drives a battered 1987 Volkswagen Beetle and keeps a charmingly scruffy appearance. His prudent lifestyle has resulted in him being dubbed as the “world’s poorest president.” Mujica refutes such a shallow statement: “I’m called the poorest president but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try and keep an expensive lifestyle and always want more.”
The antipolitcian who speaks the word of the people, Mujica practices what he preaches. He is an older man with a fresh, modern mind. He has legalised abortion, gay marriage, and cannabis. With cannabis, he cites his reasons as logical, not liberal: “With marijuana, this is not about being more liberal. We want to take users away from clandestine dealers. But we will also restrict their right to smoke if they exceed sensible amounts of consumption.” It seems, by taking work away from underground dealers, Mujica is winning. Uruguay is the safest country in all of Latin America.
His humble strategies are not limited to the political and social, but also environmental. “I’m president. I’m fighting for more work and more investment because people ask for more and more,” he said. “I am trying to expand consumption but to diminish unnecessary consumption … I’m opposed to waste – of energy, or resources, or time. We need to build things that last. That’s an ideal, but it may not be realistic because we live in an age of accumulation.” He has also said: “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed.” But, as we humans think as individuals and not as a race, it seems Mujica’s vision of ending world poverty will be delayed until we can all live by his example.
I love this photo. Here is Mujica at a national conference, symbolizing everything he stands for in his choice of clothing and posture. Whilst his colleges are smartly dressed in suits, pressed shirts and ties, Mujica lies back in his shorts and sandals. As a president, he is the picture of social equality and freedom. After all, does a swanky Armani suit really improve one’s ability as a leader?
As a fashion blogger, I often find myself on the Topshop website, drooling away at all the things I want. Things- why do we measure our importance in terms of what we own? Want- why do I seek more and more when I have absolutely everything I need under my nose? I’m a victim of Western greed.
My love of fashion might not go away, but my principles have changed. Perhaps prioritising universal awareness, equality, love, peace and responsible, environmental living is a good place to start. The reality check of learning of José Mujica is what I needed today. Maybe we all need a reality check, every day.