José Mujica

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José Mujica
José Mujica in 2009.
40th President of Uruguay
Assumed office
March 1, 2010
Vice President Danilo Astori
Preceded by Tabaré Vázquez
Personal details
Born José Alberto Mujica Cordano
May 20, 1935 (1935-05-20) (age 85)
Montevideo, Uruguay
Nationality Uruguay Uruguayan
Political party Broad Front
Spouse(s) Lucía Topolansky
Profession Farmer

José Alberto "Pepe" Mujica Cordano (Spanish pronunciation: [xoˈse muˈxika]; born 20 May 1935) is an Uruguayan politician, and President of Uruguay since 2010. A former guerrilla fighter and a member of the Broad Front (left-wing coalition), Mujica was Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries from 2005 to 2008 and a Senator afterwards. As the candidate of the Broad Front, he won the 2009 presidential election and took office as President on 1 March 2010.

He is a vegetarian, and is considered to be "the world's 'poorest' president", as he donates around 90 percent of his monthly salary, approximately $12,000, to charities to benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs.[1]

Early life

Mujica was born on 20 May 1935, to Demetrio Mujica, of Basque ancestry, and Lucy Cordano, of Italian descent.[2] In his youth, Mujica was active in the National Party, where he became close to Enrique Erro.

His mother's family was composed of very poor Italian immigrants from Piemonte. His mother was born in Carmelo, where her parents, growers of vines, bought five acres in Colonia Estrella to cultivate vineyards. His father was a small farmer who went bankrupt shortly before his death in 1940 when Mujica was five.

Between the ages of 13 and 17, he began cycling on behalf of several clubs and in different categories.

Guerrilla leader

In the early 1960s, he joined the newly formed Tupamaros movement, an armed political group inspired by the Cuban revolution.[3] He participated in the 1969 brief takeover of Pando, a town close to Montevideo, and was later convicted by a military tribunal under the government of Jorge Pacheco Areco, who had suspended certain constitutional guarantees.[4][5] Mujica was captured by the authorities on four occasions, and he was among those political prisoners[6] who escaped Punta Carretas Prison in 1971. He was eventually re-apprehended in 1972, and was shot by the police six times. After the military coup in 1973, he was transferred to a military prison where he served 14 years. During the 1970s, this included being confined to the bottom of a well for more than two years.[7] During his time in prison, he remained in contact with other leaders of the Tupamaros, including Frente Amplio Senator Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro and the founder and leader of the Tupamaros, Raúl Sendic.

In 1985, when constitutional democracy was restored, Mujica was freed under an amnesty law that covered political and related military crimes committed since 1962.[8]

Several years after the restoration of democracy, Mujica and the Tupamaros joined other left-wing organizations to create the Movement of Popular Participation,[9] a political party that was accepted within the Broad Front coalition.

In the 1994 general elections, Mujica was elected deputy and in the elections of 1999 he was elected senator. Due in part to Mujica’s charisma, the MPP continued to grow in popularity and votes, and by 2004, it had become the largest of any faction within the Broad Front. In the elections of that year, Mujica was re-elected to the Senate, and the MPP obtained over 300,000 votes, thus consolidating its position as the primary political force within the coalition and a major force behind the victory of presidential candidate Tabaré Vázquez.

Minister of Agriculture

On March 1, 2005, President Tabaré Vázquez designated Mujica as the Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries (Mujica's own professional background was in the agricultural sector). Upon becoming minister, Mujica resigned his position as senator. He held this position until a cabinet change in 2008, when he resigned and was replaced by Ernesto Agazzi. Mujica then returned to his seat in the Senate.

Political positions

Mujica with President Lula da Silva of Brazil in 2010.

Mujica's political ideology has evolved over the years from orthodox to pragmatist. In recent times he has expressed a desire for a more flexible political left that can think outside the box.[10] His 'folksy' speaking style and manner is credited as part of his growing popularity since the late 1990s, especially among rural and poor sectors of the population.[11] He has been variously described as an "antipolitician"[12] and a man who "speaks the language of the people" while also receiving criticism for untimely or inappropriate remarks.[13] Unlike president Vázquez, who vetoed a bill put forward by parliament that would make abortions legal, Mujica has stated that should it come before him in the future, he would not veto such a bill.[14] In the sphere of international relations, he hopes to further negotiations and agreements between the European Union and the regional trade bloc Mercosur, of which Uruguay is a founding member.[15] Throughout the ongoing dispute between Argentina and Uruguay regarding pulp mills on the shared river, Mujica has remained closer to the Argentine government than the previous administration, taking a position that could possibly help to resolve the conflict.[16] Asked about Lula's decision to receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he answered it was a "genius move" because "The more you fence in Iran, the harder it will be for the rest of the world".[17]

Presidential candidate

Even though President Vázquez favored his Finance Minister Danilo Astori as presidential candidate of the then unified Broad Front to succeed him in 2010, Mujica’s broad appeal and growing support within the party posed a challenge to the president. On December 14, 2008, The Extraordinary Congress “Zelmar Michelini” (a party convention) proclaimed Mujica as the official candidate of the Broad Front for primary elections of 2009, but four more precandidates were allowed to participate, including Astori. On June 28, 2009, Mujica won the primary elections becoming the presidential candidate of the Broad Front for the 2009 general election. After that, Astori agreed to be his running mate. Their campaign was centered on the concept of continuing and deepening the policies of the highly popular administration of Vázquez, using the slogan “Un gobierno honrado, un país de primera” (An honest government, a first-class country) - indirectly referencing cases of administrative corruption within the former government of the major opposition candidate, conservative Luis Alberto Lacalle. During the campaign, Mujica distanced himself from the governing style of presidents like Hugo Chávez (Venezuela) or Evo Morales (Bolivia), claiming the center-left governments of Brazilian Luis Inácio Lula da Silva or Chilean socialist Michelle Bachelet as regional examples upon which he would model his administration. Known for his informal style of dress, Mujica donned a suit (without a tie) for some stops in the presidential campaign, notably during visits to regional heads of state.[18]

In October, Mujica won a plurality of over 48 percent of the votes compared to 30 percent for former president Lacalle, falling short of the majority required by the constitution, while at the same time renewing the Broad Front's parliamentary majority for the next legislature (2010–2015). A runoff was then held on November 29 to determine the winner; on November 30 Mujica emerged as the victor, with more than 52% of the vote over Lacalle’s 43%.[19] In his first speech as president-elect before a crowd of supporters, Mujica acknowledged his political adversaries and called for unity, stating that there would be no winners or losers ("Ni vencidos, ni vencedores"). He added that "it is a mistake to think that power comes from above, when it comes from within the hearts of the masses (...) it has taken me a lifetime to learn this", a statement that has been interpreted as an acknowledgment of the mistakes by the armed revolutionaries in the 1960s.[20]


Mujica formed a cabinet made up of politicians from the different sectors of the Broad Front, conceding the economics area to aides of his vicepresident Danilo Astori. The expectations were high, as Mujica is the first former guerrilla fighter to become President in Uruguay. In general terms, his government is a continuation of the previous one; although many political figures accuse Mujica of not being resolute enough and talking too much.

In June 2012, his government made a move to legalize state-controlled sales of marijuana in order to fight drug-related crimes and health issues, and stated that they would ask global leaders to do the same.[21] Time magazine featured an article on the matter.[22] Mujica said that by regulating Uruguay’s estimated $40 million-a-year marijuana business, the state will take it away from drug traffickers, and weaken the drug cartels. The state would also be able to keep track of all marijuana consumers in the country, and provide treatment to the most serious abusers, much like what is done with alcoholics.[23]

Personal life

In 2005, Mujica married Lucía Topolansky, a fellow Tupamaro member and current senator, after many years of co-habitation. They have no children and live on an austere farm in the outskirts of Montevideo where they cultivate flowers as an economic activity. His humble lifestyle is reflected by his choice of an aging Volkswagen Beetle[24] as transport, his only asset. His wife owns the farm they live on. The Economist in an article writes that some Uruguayans see him as "a roly-poly former guerrilla who grows flowers on a small farm and swears by vegetarianism".[25][1][26][27][28] According to Mujica, he is still searching for God.[29][30]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hernandez, Vladimir. "Jose Mujica: The World's 'Poorest' President", 14 November 2012. 
  2. Ex guerrillero José Mujica asume como nuevo Presidente de Uruguay. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  3. Maria Ximena Alvarez. "Tupamaros revolution - La revolución imposible". Spanish
  4. Mallinder, Louise. "Uruguay's Evolving Experience of Amnesty and Civil Society's Response".
  5. Spanish El 13 de junio de 1968: hace 40 años nació el Pachequismo. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  6. The Tupamaros.
  7. Hennigan, T.. Ex-guerrilla who sought to overthrow state is now set to run it. URL accessed on 31 October 2009.
  8. Ley 15.737. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  9. Uruguay - Broad Front. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  10. "Ballot box gives ex-guerrilla Uruguay's presidency",, 30 November 2009.  [dead link]
  11. Carroll, Rory. "Former guerrilla Jose Mujica favourite in Uruguay election", TheGuardian, 25 October 2009. Retrieved on 2010-05-07. 
  12. "Ex-guerrilla wins Uruguay presidency",, 30 November 2009. Retrieved on 2010-05-07. 
  13. Runoff forced in Uruguay's election. AS/COA online.
  14. Mujica headed for presidential victory in Uruguay.
  15. El acuerdo entre la UE y el Mercosur es prioritario para Mujica..Spanish
  16. Mujica and Mrs. Kirchner to meet next week in Montevideo. mercopress.
  17. Mujica supports Lula da Silva's Iran policy.
  18. Mujica se compra para traje para ver a Lula.Spanish
  19. Mujica invites opposition to a unity pact..Spanish
  20. "El poder no está arriba sino en el corazón de las grandes masas", dice Mujica".Spanish
  21. BBC News - Uruguay government aims to legalise marijuana. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  22. Should the world follow Uruguay's legalization of marijuana?. Time Magazine.
  24. Clarí > El Mundo > Carlos Mujica, de tupamaro en los años 70 a nuevo líder del Senado. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  25. "Uruguay's elections: The mystery behind Mujica's mask", The Economist, 2009-10-22. Retrieved on 2012-11-16. 
  26. Mujica en "El Pato Encadenado" - (LaRed21). URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  27. Monocolumn – South America’s unsung political hero. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  28. Zap, Claudine ‘Poorest president’ donates 90% of his salary. Yahoo! News. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.
  29. "After Years in Solitary, an Austere Life as Uruguay’s President" profile by Simon Romero in The New York Times January 4, 2013
  30. La suerte de Chávez es la suerte de muchos: presidente de Uruguay. El Espectador. URL accessed on 2012-11-12.

Further reading

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