Some will like him, others will not, but what no one can debate is that ex-President of Uruguay José Mujica (2010-2015) earned his place in the pantheon of notable world leaders, a status cemented when Monocle magazine named him “the Best President of the World” in 2012.
The fame that Mujica (‘Pepe’, as he is popularly known in Uruguay) achieved at an international level is due partly to the unusual characteristics of his rule, such as his modest way of life and the fact that he donated 90% of his salary to worthy causes.
His policies also attracted world attention, however, especially the law legalising and regulating the sale of marijuana in the country — prompted by a desire to wrest power away from the state's prominent drug cartels — and his commitment to renewable energy.
‘Pepe’ left office earlier in March this year in accordance with the single-term limit in Uruguay's constitution. But his forthright philosophies and worldview, which provoked both admiration and repudiation, is likely to be associated with Uruguayan politics for some time.
Having spent 13 years of his prime as a political prisoner during the dictatorship years of the 1970s and 1980s, ‘Pepe’ gained a reputation for never shrinking from a confrontation and sticking up for what he believed to be the most important things in life.
For some, including some Uruguayans, his informal style could be embarrassing and his Latin American diplomacy was not always airtight. He was once reportedly caught calling Argentine President Cristina Kirchner “an old hag” and her husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner “the one-eyed guy”on account of his lazy eye.
But here are some of José Mujica's more thought-provoking musings, courtesy of his Wikiquote:
“La política está sujeta a volar como las perdices, cortito y rápido. Y se está necesitando política de largo aliento en un mundo que se globaliza”.
“Para vivir hay que trabajar, ¿verdad? Y si no trabajás estás viviendo de garrón a costilla de alguien. Y la vida de parásito no es digna, pero tampoco podés vivir nada más que para trabajar. Así de sencillo. Porque lo más glorioso que tenés es la vida. Y eso, que es tan elemental es la cosa que más olvidamos, pero nos lo hace olvidar la cultura, el medio ambiente y sobre todo esa violencia de arrastre que tiene la sociedad de consumo y que parece que si no estamos subidos en ese tren nos vamos a morir”.
“Son los más pobres. Mi definición es la de Séneca: “Pobre es el que necesita mucho”. Porque el que necesita mucho, eso es infinito, esos son los más pobres”.
“Nosotros creemos que el narcotráfico, no la droga, el narcotráfico es el peor flagelo que estamos soportando recientemente en América Latina”.
“Y no defendemos ninguna adicción, pero la vía represiva viene fracasando, ya llevamos muchas décadas y viene fracasando, entonces nosotros decimos “hay que tratar de arrebatarle el mercado, sacarle la razón de ser, que es arrebatarle el mercado”.”
“Abogo por una manera personal de vivir con sobriedad, porque para vivir hay que tener libertad y pa’tener libertad hay que tener tiempo…
Entonces soy sobrio para tener tiempo, porque cuando tú compras con plata no estas comprando con plata, estas comprando con el tiempo de tu vida que tuviste que gastar para tener esa plata”.
“Vale la pena vivir con intensidad, y te podés caer una, dos, tres, veinte veces, pero recuerda que te podés levantar y volver a empezar. (…) Derrotados son los que dejan de luchar, muertos son los que no luchan por vivir”.
“Lo que algunos llaman la crisis ecológica del planeta es consecuencia del triunfo avasallante de la ambición humana, ese es nuestro triunfo también nuestra derrota”.
“Continuarán las guerras y por tanto los fanatismos, hasta que tal vez la naturaleza nos llame al orden y haga inviable nuestra civilización”.
“Politics is subject to fly like partridges, short and fast. And what is needed in the globalised world is long-term policy.”
“To live you have to work, right? And if you were not to work you would be mooching off someone else. And the life of a moocher is not dignified, but you also can't live to work and do nothing else. It's that simple. Because the most glorious thing one has is life. And although life is so elemental its the thing we most forget, but life causes us to forget our culture and the environment, and above all it is the violent pull of consumer society that makes it seem that if we do not get on board the train we will die.”
“We are the poorest. My definition is from Séneca: “Poor is he who needs a lot.” Because he who needs a lot, which is everybody, these are the poorest.”
“We believe that narcotraffic, not the drug itself, but narcotraffic, is the worst scourge that we have recently been supporting in Latin America.”
“And we do not defend any addiction, but the repressive route is failing, and it has now been many decades failing, so we say: ‘We must snatch the market, take away it's reason for being, that is, snatch the market from them.'”
“I advocate from a personal point of view to live with moderation, because to live you have to have liberty and to have liberty you have to have time… So I am moderate to have time, because when you shop with money you are not buying with money, you are buying with the time from your life that you had to spend to have that money.”
“It's worthwhile to live intensely, and you might fall one, two, three, twenty times, but remember that you will get up and return to start. (…) Defeats are for those that stop fighting, dead are those that stop fighting to live.”
“What some people call the the planet's ecological crisis is the consequence of the overwhelming victory of human ambition, that is our victory and also our defeat.”
“The wars will continue and therefore the fanaticism, until nature calls us to order and makes our civilisation viable.”
Pepe, now 77, lives in a modest farmhouse with his wife, Lucia, and his three-legged dog. The couple sell Chrysanthemums for a living.