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article imageUruguay: Meet Jose Mujica, 'world's poorest president'

By JohnThomas Didymus     Nov 16, 2012 in World
Montevideo - While leaders of other poor countries live in mansions and MPs take up residence in plush hotel suites, Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay, lives on an old farmhouse, having shunned the luxury of the presidential palace in the capital city of Montevideo.
The 77-year-old vegetarian president lives on his wife's half-dilapidated farmhouse where he fetches water from a well in a yard overgrown with weeds and hangs out his clothes on a line to dry in the open.
While presidents of even some of the poorest countries in the world ride in mile-long bullet proof limousines with hordes of security operatives and elite military guardsmen armed to the teeth swarming around them, Mujica drives a 1987 VW Beetle and his official retinue of guards consist of a mongrel missing one leg and two police officers.
The BBC reports that Mujica not only lives austerely in spite of the fact that he is a president, he donates 90 percent of his monthly salary of $12,000 to charity. Donating so much of his salary to poor and small entrepreneurs means that he receives a paltry $775 a month, comparable to the income of the average Uruguayan.
Uruguay President Jose Mujica  known as the  poorest president
Uruguay President Jose Mujica, known as the 'poorest president'
BBC reports he comments: "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.
"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.
"I may appear to be an eccentric old man... But this is a free choice."
According to the BBC, in his mandatory wealth declaration, 2010, his entire possession was $1,800 plus the realizable value of his old VW Beetle. In 2012, he included half of his wife's assets in his declaration, consisting of a piece of land, tractors, and a house valued at $215,000.
The Presidential  limo   a 1987 VW Beetle
The Presidential "limo," a 1987 VW Beetle
The BBC explains that the valuation amounts to about two-thirds of the declared wealth of his Vice-President Danilo Astori, and a third of the declared wealth of his predecessor Tabare Vasquez.
Mujica was elected to office in 2009 after a life spent as a guerrilla soldier and political prisoner. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was member of a Uruguayan guerrilla group, the Tupamaros, a radical leftist militia inspired by the Cuban revolution.The group was formed initially by poor sugar cane workers and radical students. The group was implicated in political kidnappings, including the kidnapping of the UK ambassador Geoffrey Jackson, who was held for eight months in 1971. The group was disbanded in 1973 after a coup led by President Juan Maria Bordaberry.
The Presidential guard dog  a three-legged mutt
The Presidential guard dog, a three-legged mutt
Mujica spent 14 years in jail under harsh conditions. He was freed in 1985 when his country returned to democratic civil rule. He played a leading role in transforming the former rebel militia into a political party that linked up with the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) political coalition.
According to the BBC, at a Rio+20 summit in June last year, he expressed the philosophical outlook that informs his lifestyle: "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."
He accuses world leaders of suffering a "blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world."
Ignacio Zuasnabar, a Uruguayan pollster, told the BBC: "Many sympathize with President Mujica because of how he lives. But this does not stop him for being criticized for how the government is doing."
Mujica has come under attack from the opposition who complain that the country's growing prosperity under his administration has not translated into better living conditions for the poor. According to the BBC, his popularity rating dropped below 50 percent recently, the first time since his election in 2009.
He also came under attack after his country's Congress passed a bill that legalized abortions for pregnancies up to 12 weeks. His political opponents criticized him because he did not veto the bill like his predecessor did.
His critics have also attacked him for supporting the move to legalize marijuana in a bill that would give the state monopoly over trade in the drug. Mujica's radical opinion is that "consumption of cannabis is not the most worrying thing, drug-dealing is the real problem."
Mujica will not be seeking re-election in 2014, having served his term as president. He is expected to retire from politics soon after 2014.
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