Essay: A Very Different Kind of President

My name is José Mujica Cordano. I am a descendant of immigrants. This means that my origin is that of boats and that by chance, I set foot on land – at the mouth of the river La Plata in the Atlantic. I am a peasant of sorts who loves nature … and I have devoted an important part of my life to trying to ameliorate the social circumstances of the world where I was born.

At this moment, I am president. I do a few things. I support others, and I give thanks to life. I have had certain disappointments, numerous injuries, and spent some years in prison – in effect, the path of someone who wants to change the world. It’s a miracle that I’m still alive

A former guerrilla with the Tupamaros, Pepe was imprisoned for 13 years during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, including being confined to the bottom of an old, emptied horse-watering trough for more than two years. During his time in prison, suffered a number of health crises, particularly mental issues. His closest, while often in communication with each rarely managed to bring Pepe into the conversation. According to Pepe himself, at the time he was suffering from auditory hallucinations and related forms of paranoia. In 1985, when constitutional democracy was restored, he was freed under an amnesty law that covered political and related military crimes committed since 1962 (Source: Wikipedia).

I spent more than ten years in solitary confinement in a dark cell, seven of those years without reading a single work. I had time to think, and here is what I discovered: Either you manage to be happy with very little … or you accomplish nothing. This is not an argument for poverty but for temperance.

We have invented a mountain of superficial needs; we live by buying and throwing out. But what we really spend is our time. When I buy something, or when you buy something, you don’t buy it with money; you buy it with the time you have spent to earn that money. The difference is that the only thing that can’t be bought is life. What a misfortune is it to use it to lose our freedom!  I am not free when I need to spend a large part of my time in pursuit of the sole goal of acquiring material goods that supposedly allow me to live …Fighting for freedom means fighting to make use of free time.

To be temperate and to cultivate moderation is a better way to distribute resources. Here is a small anecdote. In Uruguay – since we are a small country – we don’t have a presidential airplane. And instead of buying one, we bought a helicopter because it’s useful. We bought one … that has a surgery station and provides several other urgent care services … for saving lives. Henceforth, there is a system at people’s disposal that can rescue them quickly. This question is simple: Do I buy a presidential airplane or do I buy a helicopter to save lives?”

It seems to me that moderation has to do with making this kind of choice. I am not saying that we have to return to living in caves or under thatched roofs. No! What I propose is that we turn our backs to the world of waste, unnecessary expenses, and ostentatious houses that make you need two, three, or four servants! What is the point in all of that?


1] Hernandez, Vladimir (14 November 2012), Jose Mujica: The World’s ‘Poorest’ President“, BBC News Magazine and Jonathan Watts (13 December 2013). Uruguay’s president José Mujica: no palace, no motorcade, no frills,The Guardian. Source: Wikipedia

[2] Extracted from Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Human: A Portrait of Our World, Thames & Hudson, 2015.

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