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Jose Mujica

Lessons from Jose Mujica: The world’s ‘poorest’ president

Uruguayan president Jose Mujica is known on the Internet as the poorest president in the world. This is because of his very simple lifestyle and the fact that he donates 90% of his salary to charity (he keeps $1250 of the $12,500). The most expensive thing he owns is his old 1987 Volkswagen Beatle. From the BBC:

It’s a common grumble that politicians’ lifestyles are far removed from those of their electorate. Not so in Uruguay. Meet the president – who lives on a ramshackle farm and gives away most of his pay.

Laundry is strung outside the house. The water comes from a well in a yard, overgrown with weeds. Only two police officers and Manuela, a three-legged dog, keep watch outside.

This is the residence of the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, whose lifestyle clearly differs sharply from that of most other world leaders.

President Mujica has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife’s farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo.

I particularly loved his explanation of why he’s living that way:

“I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”

“I’ve lived like this most of my life,” he says, sitting on an old chair in his garden, using a cushion favoured by Manuela the dog.

“I can live well with what I have.”

“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.

“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.

The Uruguayan leader made a similar point when he addressed the Rio+20 summit in June this year: “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.”

For years these have been exactly my thoughts and my life is structured to keep it as inexpensive and simple as possible. I chose to live very minimally and I explained why in my posts titled “If you have nothing to lose you can only win” and “Infinite love is the only truth.” Basically it all comes down to having less burdens and more freedom in life while also thinking about the needs of others. And I think Mujica sets a good example for everyone to follow.


Update 27/10/2013: Al Jazeera did an exclusive interview with Mujica which I HIGHLY recommend checking out.

The whole interview is filled with wise thoughts from Mujica, but I particularly loved the following quotes:

Around 2:00 in: My definition of poor are those who need too much, because those who need too much are never satisfied. I’m frugal, not poor. Frugal, with a light suitcase. I live with little, just what’s necessary. Not tied down to material things. Why? So I can have more free time. To do what? What I like. Freedom is having time to live.

Around 7:10 in: The only good addiction is love. Forget everything else.

Around 15:55 in: I don’t oppose consumption. I am against waste. We have to produce food for the hungry, roofs for those who need a home, build schools for those who don’t have schools. We need to solve the water problem. If every powerful person has three, four, five cars and needs 400 square meters to live, and a house at the beach and an airplane to go here and there then there isn’t enough for everyone. What does modern science tell us? It tells us indisputable facts. If the current world population aspired to consume like the average American, we would need three planet Earths. Which means that if we continue tossing out things, naturally a great part of humanity will never have anything. They’re doomed.

Around 17:45 in: I can’t fix this as a government. I’m a prisoner of this myself. What I’m pointing out is where we’re heading. True, there is extraordinary waste here. There are houses used only 20 days a year in Punta del Este, luxurious houses while others don’t even have a shack to sleep at night. It’s crazy, unjust. I oppose that world. But I’m a prisoner of that world.

Around 23:20 in: (On the secret to happiness) To live in accordance with how one thinks. To talk to the man you carry inside. It’s the companion we carry to our grave. Be yourself and don’t try to impose your criteria on the rest. I don’t expect others to live like me. I want to respect people’s freedom but I defend my freedom. And that comes with having the courage to say what you think, even if sometimes others don’t share those views.

Around 24:24 in: (On being accused of being undiplomatic) Yes, I am too direct sometimes. You are right. Because the language I use is the truth, even when I’m mistaken. And when I’m wrong I admit it and say it publicly.

A lot of those things I often mention myself in my posts. It’s always good to see I’m not the only one thinking like this.

Update 29/12/2013: Uruguay was named by the Economist as the country of the year 2013, no doubt thanks to Mujica and his recent policies in the country:

Uruguay may have been criticized by the U.N. agency charged with overseeing illegal drugs, but the South American country is earning praise from The Economist.

The liberal British publication chose “modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving” Uruguay as its country of the year for 2013, heaping praise on the government of José “Pepe” Mujica for legalizing the production and sale of marijuana. It is the first year the publication has awarded this title.

“This is a change so obviously sensible, squeezing out the crooks and allowing the authorities to concentrate on graver crimes, that no other country has made it,” The Economist quipped. “If others followed suit, and other narcotics were included, the damage such drugs wreak on the world would be drastically reduced.”

The publication also applauded Uruguay for legalizing gay marriage, a tend The Economist says has “increased the global sum of human happiness at no financial cost.”

Also check out the below video report.

Simply wonderful. I hope other leaders worldwide will take an example from Mujica, and follow in his footsteps. The world we live in is going to improve rapidly when that happens.


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