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Humble Uruguayan president Mujica set to retire

During his five years as president he donated $550,000 to charity, with $400,000 going to Plan Together, a social program that supports vulnerable Uruguayan families. Mujica donates about 90 percent of his 12,000 monthly presidential salary to charities benefiting the poor and small entrepreneurs. Mujica says about his donations: “You can talk all you want, but put your money where your mouth is.”

In 2010, as part of his mandatory wealth declaration, Mujica listed his old 1987 Volkswagen Beetle as his sole asset, with a value of $1,800. As president, Mujica refused to live in the presidential palace or use its staff. Commenting on his austere life style Mujica said: “I travel in life light in luggage, so those things don’t rob me of my freedom.”

Mujica will be turning 80 in May of this year. He will retire to a small farm owned by his wife who was his companion for many years before they married in 2005. Both of them were part of the Tupamaros leftist guerrilla movement in the 60s and early 70s. Mujica spent 13 years in custody in horrible conditions during the seventies and until 1985 when constitutional democracy returned to Uruguay and he was released in an amnesty.

While president, Mujica worked to raise the minimum wage. In 2015, the minimum wage will rise more than 13 percent. While Mujica is stepping down in March, his replacement Tabare Vasquez represents the same leftist grouping, the Broad Front, that elected Mujica. Vasquez was previously president from 2005 to 2010. Presidents cannot serve more than one consecutive term. Vasquez was elected last November with a majority of 56.6 percent over his center-right opponent at 43.4 percent. Vasquez said that voters had said yes to more democracy and increased public services.

Among the reforms that Vasquez will continue is the implementation of legalization of marijuana. Mujica had announced plans for legalization in June 2012 as a means of fighting drug-related violence and reducing other social problems associated with criminalization of the drug.
Uruguay has also accepted Syrian refugees as well as six former inmates of Guantanamo Bay. The hour-long interview appended gives a fascinating look into the life and ideas of Mujica. The English subtitles make it easy to follow the interview for monolingual anglophones.

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