Last week on a public street in the Uruguayan oceanside capital of Montevideo, ACU students Lindsay Urban, Anna Beasley and Elise Brimberry ran into the unconventional president of their host country.
Jose “Pepe” Mujica has been the elected leader of his South American nation since 2010. He leads a casual, offbeat lifestyle, refusing to reside in the lavish house provided for the country’s leader and choosing instead to stay at his wife’s farm outside Montevideo, guarded by two policemen and his three-legged dog. He drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle and gives away most of his $12,000-a-month salary to charity.
He once served 14 years as the political prisoner of a Uruguayan president who had suspended constitutional democracy. Mujica went on to become a senator, and later, a cabinet member under former President Tabare Vazquez. He was a finalist for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 and has been nominated again this year.
Mujica told the BBC he is simply exercising his freedom of choice by eschewing the customary trappings of political royalty, leading some to name him “the world’s poorest president”:
“I’m called ‘the poorest’, 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. 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. I may appear to be an eccentric old man … But this is a free choice.”