Mujica and Obama strengthen the bond between US and Uruguay

President Obama met with Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica Cordano in the Oval Office on Monday, marking the first time Mujica has visited the White House.…

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica during a press availability in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 12, 2014. As expected, the humble Mujica did not wear a tie, but he did use a long sleave shirt and suit. (AP Photo)

President Obama met with Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica Cordano in the Oval Office on Monday, marking the first time Mujica has visited the White House.

The two leaders discussed trade, the importance of language learning, and the dangers of tobacco, among other things. According to the White House’s press release, the meeting “underscored the close partnership between the United States and Uruguay.”

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Mujica, who has garnered international attention of late for legalizing marijuana in Uruguay, is known for his informal style of dress and humble residence on a flower farm.

Building Commercial Ties

One of the key topics discussed at Monday’s meeting was the commercial relationship between the United States and Uruguay.

Obama expressed a desire to “expand trade and commerce between the two nations,” building on the 2007 U.S.-Uruguay Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. In fact, as the two leaders met, officials from the countries convened a Trade and Investment Council meeting to review recent changes.

According to the White House, during the meeting both countries “expressed satisfaction with improvements in customs modernization, the recent granting of Uruguayan market access to U.S. poultry and beef and of U.S. market access to Uruguayan citrus and deboned lamb.”

Government data shows that the two countries traded $2.2 billion in total goods during 2013, an increase from previous years. Over the last decade—from 2003 to 2013—U.S. exports to Uruguay have increased by 48 percent, while Uruguayan imports to the U.S. have increased by 65 percent over the same time period.

Human Rights and Education

Presidents Mujica and Obama also discussed human rights, democracy, and the importance of education.

Obama noted that he had been “consistently impressed” with Mujica, who assumed the office of the president in 2010. The Uruguayan has made a name for himself as a champion of both human rights and the democratic process. Specifically, Uruguay has contributed to peacekeeping in Haiti and Africa, activities Obama urged Mujica to continue.

For his part, Mujica spoke about the importance of language learning, both for his own people and for Americans: “‘We live in a time when we need to learn English—yes, or yes?’” he asked Obama, according to the White House Pool report. “‘And you will have to become a bilingual country—yes, or yes? Because the strength of Latin women is admirable, and they will fill this country.’”

The U.S. and Uruguay already have strong teacher and student exchange programs, but the leaders expressed an interest in expanding that relationship. Data from the White House fact sheet suggest that the countries will provide increased support for the 100,000 Strong in the Americas study abroad initiative.

Dangers of Smoking

Finally, Obama and Mujica briefly discussed the health risks of tobacco.

According to USA Today, Uruguay’s president emphasized that 8 million people die every year from smoking: “‘It’s murder,’ he said. ‘We are in an arduous fight…against very strong (corporate) interests.’”

Uruguay has one of the most extreme anti-tobacco laws in the world, requiring that health warnings cover at least 80 percent of each cigarette pack. The country is currently fighting a lawsuit against tobacco giant Philip Morris.

Interestingly, while many anticipated that Obama and Mujica would discuss Guantanamo Bay detainees, the situations in Syria and Venezuela, and marijuana legalization, those topics were left out of the meeting.

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