There are some in this world who are truly selfless, who would do anything for anyone and expect little or nothing in return. But what if that person was in the top office of your country? Meet Uruguay’s president, José Mujica.
He may be poor by our standards, but he is truly rich – José gives back 90 per cent of his $12,000 salary to his country and, unlike a lot of political leaders, he is much loved by his citizens. In comparison, Tony Abbott earns $500,000 a year and it is unknown how much is donated.
At 78 years old, José has lived a harrowing life, and since spending 14 years in solitary confinement in prison, is determined to offer his people a better life with less obstacles….he believes in true peace.
Earlier this year, José met with Barack Obama to speak at a number of venues across America. He told Americans they should smoke less and learn more languages, and addressed the US Chamber of Commerce, telling them the benefits of redistributing wealth and raising salaries for workers. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone listened to this man? Time will tell if his words will plant a seed in the US’s governance or if they will continue on their usual path.
José has completely rejected the typical life of a president – he refuses to live in the Presidential Palace or have security following him. Instead, he chooses to live in a one-bedroom house with his wife and drives a modest 1987 Volkswagen. He credits his humbleness to his tough time in prison where he would have been happy to just have a mattress. In donating 90 per cent of his small $12,000 salary, he is left with the same amount of money as the average person in his country, so he truly knows what it is like to be in their shoes and thus can understand their issues and plights. He has the power to make a change and doesn’t it just touch your heart?
He also rejects the call that he is the world’s poorest president, playing down his meagre earnings, he said, “A poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more and more. I don’t live in poverty, I live in simplicity. There’s very little that I need to live”.
And José doesn’t stop there, during his 4 years so far as president, he has legalised marijuana (“it’s time to try something different”), meaning the small South American country became the first in the world to regulate the legal production, sale and consumption of marijuana; he has legalised gay marriage (“not to legalise it would be unnecessary torture for some people”); he has allowed gay adoption; and he has supported the legalisation of abortions despite the conservative Catholic opinion in Latin America.
During his administration, José Mujica has reduced Uruguay’s poverty from 37 per cent to 11 per cent, saying “Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce”. And what he says makes sense: less poverty, more money.
Uruguay will never participate in a war because of José Mujica’s opposition to militarism, he says, “the worst negotiation is better than the best war, and the only way to insure peace is to cultivate tolerance”. What a wise man.
And finally, as if he isn’t endearing enough, José has a three-legged dog, Manuela, who follows him everywhere.
Imagine a country where we felt we could approach our Prime Minister in the street, or we felt listened to, or we even felt like we could relate to them like the Uruguay people can with José Mujica? Tony Abbott is in his office in Canberra or jet-setting around the world and he is untouchable, he is inaccessible to his people. He even cut a week-long stint in Arnhem Land short and it felt like he couldn’t wait to get out of there…he was like a fish out of water. Would having a leader like José fix our problems or do we need someone like Tony Abbott, who most would be nervous to speak to if we saw him in the flesh, lest we weren’t pushed away by security?
Tell us your thoughts on José Mujica and his radical approach to presidency. Should we elect a leader like this who cares deeply for their citizens? Or is a more stoic leader what we need?