After five years in power, the man described as the “world’s most humble president” has stepped down from office in Uruguay.
In a ceremony yesterday, Jose “Pepe” Mujica, who leaves with approval ratings of nearly 70 per cent, handed over his presidential sash to Tabare Vazquez.
Here are eight reasons why he’ll be missed:
1. He donated 90 per cent of his salary to charity
Mujica wasn’t known as the world’s humblest president for nothing. The former president shunned the luxurious lifestyle and was usually seen in casual clothes for official ceremonies and rarely, if ever, wore a tie. By donating 90 per cent of his salary to charity, his income was roughly equal to the average wage in Uruguay – $775 (£485) a month.
I have a way of life that I don’t change just because I am a president. I earn more than I need, even if it’s not enough for others. For me, it is no sacrifice, it’s a duty.
- Jose Mujica
2. And lived on a farm
With just his three-legged dog Manuela and two police officers for security, Mujica lives on a small farm on the outskirts of the capital Montevideo. In a 2012 interview with the BBC, he explained: “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.
3. He drives a 1987 blue VW Beetle
While most presidents travel around in chauffeur-driven saloon cars, the former Uruguayan president drove his own beat-up Beetle. He was even offered $1m for the car by an Arab Sheikh, but said he didn’t give the offer “any importance”.
4. And picks up hitch-hikers
5. He legalised marijuana
But for practical reasons rather than ideological ones. “150,000 people smoke [marijuana] here and I couldn’t leave them at the mercy of drugs traffickers,” he explained. “It’s easier to control something if it’s legal and that’s why we’ve done this.”
6. He leaves the economy in rude health
As well as backing a range of social policies like legalising abortion and gay marriage, the president leaves behind a legacy of economic health. While neighbouring Argentina and Brazil have suffered downturns in recent years, Uruguay has witnessed rising salaries and a historically low unemployment rate.
7. He’s just not like other politicians
As soon as politicians start climbing up the ladder, they suddenly become kings. I don’t know how it works, but what I do know is that republics came to the world to make sure that no one is more than anyone else. You need a palace, red carpet, a lot of people behind you saying ‘Yes, sir.’ I think all of that is awful.
- Jose Mujica
8. And all that after being shot six times and being put in jail for 14 years for opposing the country’s former dictatorship
“I’ve no doubt that had I not lived through that I would not be who I am today. Prison, solitary confinement had a huge influence on me. I had to find an inner strength. I couldn’t even read a book for seven, eight years – imagine that!”
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