Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, is one of Latin America’s most important figures. His country, although small in population and geography, is a giant of democracy capable of producing a leader not clouded by power, who remained faithful to the man elected by the people.
For some opponents, Mujica’s untidy style has weakened society. Uruguay does not allow for reelection, but the citizens’ feelings towards the left-wing government are not bad, since they have already voted for the ruling party’s candidate Tabaré Vásquez.
Mujica’s presidency has actually been very positive, even though he shunned ties and the formalities of power. He kept his humble house and old car instead of moving to a mansion and having drivers at his disposal. Furthermore, he donates 90% of his salary to charities.
Mujica, elected in 2009, leads a left-wing government different from his Latin American colleagues. He does not need permanent confrontation with the U.S. He does not need an enemy to justify his presence or his politics. Moreover, the relation with the Obama administration could not be better after receiving as refugees some Guantánamo detainees.
The president is still critical of the market philosophy, but that has not prevented him from attaining a median growth rate of 5.5% in the past four years. According to CEPAL, Uruguay had an 8% increase in the first semester of 2013. That same year, The Economist named Uruguay “Country Of the year.”
Mujica’s achievements are many. His actions to face challenges are as daring as legalizing marihuana. However it’s his personality what stands out in a time of presidents hungry for power and fortune.
Mujica never aspired to change the rules of the game to get reelected. He never saw himself as indispensable as a savior of the fatherland. He spent 15 years in prison for believing in an armed utopia; however, just like Nelson Mandela, he governed without resentment.
This coming March he will leave the Uruguayan presidency, but his image of integrity will be remembered every time a leader thinks he is more important than the people who elected him.