Uruguay: Meet Jose Mujica, ‘world’s poorest president’

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President Jose Mujica

José Mujica, president of Uruguay, has been described as the world’s poorest and most generous political leader; he donates about 90% of his salary to charities, lives in a modest house at his wife’s flower farm, and drives a 1987 VW Beetle.

José Mujica, 77, is an atypical politician. Uruguayans know him as “Pepe” and just about everyone in the country agrees that, in everyday life, he’s a citizen like any other, except he doesn’t have a bank account and has very few debts. He lists an old VW Beetle as his only personal asset, although he also gets to use, as official transport vehicle, a humble Chevrolet Corsa which he calls “the Presidential car”.

By law, Mujica’s annual salary is about US$ 150,000. Pepe keeps 10% of it for personal expenses and transfers the rest to a Foundation administered by the Movement of Popular Participation, his political left-wing organization, which supports small productive enterprises and NGOs working on housing developments for the poor. That leaves Mujica about US$ 1,250 a month.

“I do fine with that amount; I have to do fine because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less,”

said Mujica in an interview with El Mundo (in Spanish).

Lowest paid politician

How does Mujica’s salary compare with earnings of other political leaders? Assuming that most of the highest-paid political leaders do not give away an important fraction of their salary, and just to mention a few comparative examples, Mujica’s annual take-home pay (US$15,000) is 5.8 percent of David Cameron’s (UK) annual income; 4.2 percent of Stephen Harper’s (Canada); 3.1 percent of B. Obama’s yearly income (USA); 2.9 percent of Kenya’s Raila Odinga; just 2.5 percent of what Julia Gillard of Australia earns, and only 0.7% of the income amassed by Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore.

An example of austerity and solidarity

At a time when many world leaders request or impose austerity on their country’s citizens, Mujica himself maintains a very simple and austere lifestyle. He doesn’t live in the Palace of Suarez y Reyes, the official presidential residence. Instead, he lives in a farmhouse in Rincón del Cerro, a locality in the outskirts of Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital. The farm and the house are the property of his wife Lucía Topolansky, whom Pepe married in 2005 after many years of co-habitation. At Lucía’s farm, the couple operates a vegetable and flower growing business.

During the coldest days of the winter of 2012 (Southern Hemisphere), Mujica offered the use of the presidential residence, normally used for government meetings, to serve as shelter for homeless families. The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) managed to find suitable alternatives, and the Presidential Palace was not used, but it remains as an option in case of emergencies.

Most recently, just a few days ago, José Mujica took part in a meeting of CEFIR (Training Center for Regional Integration) where he attended a lecture on “Challenges for Mercosur” (the Southern Common Market). He had a bruised nose. When asked about the cause of his injury, he confessed it happened while helping a neighbour to repair a metal roof after a severe wind storm that recently hit Southern Brazil, Uruguay and Northern Argentina.

The former guerrilla fighter

Jose Mujica was a leader of the Uruguayan guerrilla group known as the National Liberation Movement - Tupamaros (MLN). Between 1960 and 1972, the Tupamaros clashed with the Conservative government of Uruguay, but were defeated in 1972. Most Tupamaro leaders, including José Mujica, were jailed and remained in captivity during the military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1973 and 1985.

Mujica spent almost 14 years in a military prison. In 1985, at the end of the military regime, he was released under an amnesty law covering political and related crimes committed since 1962. In 1994, Mujica was elected deputy, and in 1999 and 2004 he was elected senator. On March, 2005 Mujica was appointed by the then President Tabaré Vázquez as Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries, a position he held until March, 2008, when he returned to the Uruguayan legislature as senator. In November 2009, he was elected President of the Republic for the period 2010-2015.

In June 13 to 22, 2012, president Mujica attended Rio+20, the 20-year follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit / United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro under the name “The Future we want”. At this meeting, Pepe gave a simple, eloquent, and moving speech on “Human Happiness and the Environment”, which was deemed as probably one of the best speeches of the conference. The video below shows the speech in Spanish with English subtitles, but here is a better translation of Mujica’s words.

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67 Responses to Uruguay: Meet Jose Mujica, ‘world’s poorest president’

  1. Here is a man who went into politics to serve the people. Unlike those who go in to serve themselves and their relatives. How inspiring.

    kampusa wabo - November 19, 2012
    21:10

  2. Guys, I am the lowest paid in the company I work for. Does this mean I am also blessed like this man???

    Delgo - November 19, 2012
    16:02

  3. Okay i think he is the richest, and blessed is he who gives and he will receive.
    Well done President. don’t be like ukwa who thinks we are in his country foreve.

    Zambian youth - November 19, 2012
    13:16

  4. My president HH will rule zambia for free,the first 5 years of his term and then get paid his last term.

    maybin - November 19, 2012
    12:21

  5. envy him please.

    muti props - November 19, 2012
    12:09

  6. Can you be like him. i dont think so he has a special gift

    nshilimubemba - November 19, 2012
    11:23

  7. He is a true leader not our old serpent Mikaela Satana.

    Tateyoyo - November 19, 2012
    10:07

  8. Thats what we mean when we say true leaders should serve there suffering majority and not them being served by the poor like sata is doing to us

    Mr Kiss - November 19, 2012
    08:21

  9. He his a true leader,wisdom flows in his heart.very kind and selfless man.in him christ is at work.may GOD bless him more and more each day.there is a place for him in heaven.shame on you selfish sata,embrace your fellow thieves.

    2720 - November 19, 2012
    07:12

  10. Never in this world of a multitude have I heard of one man who is so passionate about the welfare of so many to the point where he is almost so oblivious to his personal needs. He is one in a billion and people of Uruguay are the most blessed. This does not happen in Africa. He is the world’s most blessed man.

    steve - November 19, 2012
    06:30

    • Steve I agree with you this is one of the worlds only truest presidents. May The Good Lord Richly Bless him with heavenly wealth for being true to his promise in his office. He is a true leader and visionary, such like him only exist in the bible. I am greatly inspired by his record and attitude

      Kritiq - November 19, 2012
      07:06

  11. So what?

    Nikuv - November 18, 2012
    21:56

    • Nikuvu chikala wa be tole

      MAKUTU - November 19, 2012
      14:08

  12. thats too good to be true

    lead vocalist - November 18, 2012
    20:40

  13. He has a place in the Kingdom of God,For our man he is the opposite in any way.

    lumpen - November 18, 2012
    19:25

  14. Very few except late Mwanawasa who died for the people. May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ukwa can not and he is a rascal

    Sena - November 18, 2012
    19:04

  15. But why are we complaining when CC warned us well well in advance.

    shi mpundu Nshiwamya - November 18, 2012
    18:51

  16. In zed there is too much evryone 4 himself and God 4 us all,in zed u wrk 6to6 and get a chicken change salary we have greed leaders,bosses at wrk, selfish invester, useless media, weakness law.so u see in zed life is hard people don’t care about others. Zwd have u ever donated your profit to charity?

    marv - November 18, 2012
    18:43

  17. But our own Ukwa wanted to build political mileage when he assumed power by identifying himself with the poor when inside his heart he was a raven wolf! Now power has come into his head and he wants a house built for himself barely 1 year in office! Hypocrite!

    Mubanga - November 18, 2012
    18:17

  18. The only selfless politician in Zambia is HH.

    blago - November 18, 2012
    16:47

    • Ha i beg to differ thank you.

      offman2000 - November 18, 2012
      19:45

  19. Very inspiring leader. How many African leaders can accept that including our own who the post calls pro poor.

    Kapiji mema - November 18, 2012
    16:32

  20. Let this sata and all african presidents emmulate this humble man. Riches have reached sata,s head that he has to amass more money in his pockets, a retirement home before he retires, and who knows maybe he has already started drawing his pension. Shame

    mwenso bob - November 18, 2012
    16:22

  21. Ca he please quickly double his salary and build himself a house like our Ukwa!

    Lwalwa - November 18, 2012
    14:38

  22. Hw can you guys say “he got only his wife to cater and fend for” So are you guys trying to say he has no relatives, sibilings, classmates and greedy friends to cater for……He is just being thoughtful. Every president and leader should emulate him

    Phil - November 18, 2012
    13:59

  23. how much is his carefree life costing the taxper in terms of security? if you stay in a state house you have security measures in place. however if you stay at your own farm then security features are temporal and will have to shift from time to time. this man is actually costing the taxpayer in a way. he is compromising the office of the presidency by taking unnecessary risks by moving in an protected car. he could be assasinated thereby causing by elections which could be costly.

    Noel - November 18, 2012
    13:47

    • Well thought analysis. Keep it up

      jansido - November 18, 2012
      18:53

    • I do not agree with you my friend. Take it as it is. It costs less to have this leader in power. Simple as that.

      Patriotic Zambian - November 19, 2012
      16:07

  24. This article was on the BBC a week ago. You didn’t even give credit to the original writer. Plagiarism is a crime.

    Mulahu - November 18, 2012
    10:25

    • I agree! when the Government talks of lack of principles in jounalism, this is what they mean! the guys want us believe they created the story! even the so much hated mmumembe gives credit when a story is not his!

      enlightened - November 18, 2012
      12:07

    • Don’t we have a working Media Council?. Plagiarism is such a big problem for our local papers. Some like the Kitwe Times just google stories from the diaspora and just claim them as their own with not even a single accreditation. Not only is it a crime, it is unethical.

      Ben BELLA - November 18, 2012
      15:30

  25. A noble life worthy emulating.

    Honest - November 18, 2012
    10:23

    • I want to be like him in someway except carpentry and bricklaying

      Kapotwe Tugiligili - November 18, 2012
      15:52

  26. i want to meet him

    MOSSAD - November 18, 2012
    10:15

    • Start going to church, you might have a chance of metting him in heaven.

      Delgo - November 19, 2012
      16:09

  27. What a president God bless him and change abena Bob and Snake.

    Tom London - November 18, 2012
    10:05

  28. In most countries, It’s time to Gain “Billions of Dollars” when one comes into power.

    LEAD BY EXAMPLE - November 18, 2012
    09:33

  29. People let’s learn to thnk nt only of ourselves bt th nxt person too.those of you sayg ths presdnt only dd ths cz hez gt only a wife to live for,well thts BS cz he cn choose to live a flamboyantt careless life with his earned money as presdnt bt he chooses to giv t out;in comparison to sata whom we aint sayg shud give his money,but give to zambians what zambians deserve,isn’t his presidential mula enuf tu begin wrongly governg n gettg more money tht aint his in his pockets….awe zambia gets worse with each new presdnt except the late LPM

    Six Nine - November 18, 2012
    09:19

  30. Funny enough he polled below 50% for the first tym in a local poll since the release of this information as his citizens feel being unique we not resolve their challenges.

    voiceofreason - November 18, 2012
    09:00

  31. Poor Zambia were are you heading to?????????

    concerned - November 18, 2012
    08:51

  32. Very inspiring article..! Its an eye opener for Greedy Micheal Satan who’s busy amassing wealth at the expense of many suffering Zambians.

    From 7 guns worthy of a fool , Sata wants to become billionaire in a fortnight – useless chap.

    Cety - November 18, 2012
    08:41

  33. Ours is a pro-poor Govt. Meaning : Professional poor people swindlers.

    Umumbulu - November 18, 2012
    08:23

  34. Naiwe uli tole chi color….

    Roque - November 18, 2012
    08:06

  35. Sata has worked hard to reach to Plot 1.

    Our President is very humble person and he is sharing his good time with all of us. Give him time to achieve growth and prosperity for us all. He does not announce in the media when he shares his fortune with the deserving in the society.

    reality show - November 18, 2012
    08:04

    • Yeah right! He was very quick to queue for fuel when there were fuel shortages, or hitch a ride in a minibus! So he didn’t do this for the media?

      Scholastica Chocolatika - November 18, 2012
      08:51

    • Deserving society, my foot. He is using all people’s tax money to prop up his cronies! What a shame. How come only those who support the opposition are corrupt. As long as you support PF you can get away with massive corruption.
      By the way, all those who are joining PF, from opposition are messengers of the opposition. Their goal is get close to the cradle of power so they can witness corrupt practices first hand. Bravo!!!!

      Wanzelu - November 18, 2012
      12:16

    • @reality show. you must be very dull. you open your eyes my friend!

      madam ukwa returns - November 18, 2012
      13:16

    • A humble person does nt show his authority in public by shouting at his workers in frnt of their juniours! A humble person does not rush to building his own house before building a house 4 those that need it the most

      Vigilant Citizen (I AM BITTER) - November 18, 2012
      15:33

  36. @MBwalya, It seems you lack objectivity. ZWD is giving us a story on role models. They are disseminating us information about leadership qualities and a example of selfless leader in a third world country and you trivialise the whole issue.

    Bradford - November 18, 2012
    07:45

  37. so u want our president to shift to a farm in mahopo area and start using a toyota corola…then i move in to state house as an emergency since am not in good terms with the landlord. 90% of his salary to go to my NGO….i think that is fantastic….next

    speaker mart Bean - November 18, 2012
    07:44

    • You moron, what is wrong in living in a farm?
      You are a disgrace to the farming community and hardworking Christians. You continue bootlicking your Satan. His time is coming soon to answer all his assocaitions with theives.

      Bradford - November 18, 2012
      08:48

      • but y r u insulting me…..nipa sunday lelo….next

        speaker mart Bean - November 18, 2012
        10:19

    • If Guy scott s living at his own farm house, why cant sata do the same??? Is guy scott a dog? Just close that Fungy Infested Mouth Before you embarrass your parents and yourself

      Billy mwanza - November 18, 2012
      10:02

  38. Hahahah sweet… Thts his choice prolly he has no relatives and children. So its well with him

    shushushu - November 18, 2012
    07:44

  39. Sata would never do that!!!!NEVER!! He is tooo greedy!! Increasing his salary twice in less than a year of presidency!! Eehhe!!
    This man is a true human being, a true leader!!!

    brutal lawyer24 - November 18, 2012
    07:22

    • you are the most dull human yet,sata has his way of life and thinking so don’t jugde his actions.if you feel you are that givy be president,he has children,family alot to look at and the poorest presidnt only has his wife to live for

      mwa - November 18, 2012
      07:43

  40. What is your point?
    Presidents work hard and deserve good salaries and benefits. Don’t waste our time on your useless articles.

    MBwalya - November 18, 2012
    07:12

    • you are useless yourself because you spend time reading useless articles and even commenting on them

      Ninja - November 18, 2012
      07:42

      • Why call your friend usless? Shame on you

        shushushu - November 18, 2012
        07:45

        • my dear useles is not an insult its only that he is not helpful to the nation developmental

          bwaalya - November 18, 2012
          08:32

    • very right Ninja

      Bradford - November 18, 2012
      07:46

    • you r embarrasing your parents. just keep quiet

      Billy mwanza - November 18, 2012
      10:03

  41. This is a real president…..i wish we had such in Zambia.

    Real Patriot - November 18, 2012
    07:11

  42. real presido………

    SHI MABOOLO - November 18, 2012
    07:04

  43. “During the coldest days of the winter of 2012 (Southern Hemisphere), Mujica offered the use of the presidential residence, normally used for government meetings, to serve as shelter for homeless families.”

    And here we have in Zambia our beloved Kaponya who is building his mansion before retirement, increasing his salary by 120%, globe trotting and accumulating slush fund.

    monwon - November 18, 2012
    07:01

    • Don’t worry ! What you do to others shall be done to you. Next government will get all that back.

      Wanzelu - November 18, 2012
      12:26