“A poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more and more. I don’t live in poverty, I live in simplicity. There’s very little that I need to live.” -José Mujican (president of Uruguay)
I sort of have a new and slightly unconventional hero – the president of Uruguay. José Mujican has become somewhat notorious throughout his presidency as being the “poorest president in the world,” but that’s not the only reason I think he is so great. For starters, the reason he has earned this title is because he has given up 90% of his income to low-income housing organizations so that his salary amounts to that of an average citizen in his country. He doesn’t particularly like this title though, and has many things to say about it such as the quote at the top of the page and these below:
“My definition of poverty is the one we owe to Seneca: It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”
“I’m called ‘the poorest president’, 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.”
Here is a president who has realized that success and happiness don’t not come from material goods, and has chosen to live his life in his wife’s small farmhouse instead of the extravagant presidential palace he is expected to dwell in. Though I strongly admire him for his simplistic lifestyle, his stance on peace is what I think is most important to the increasingly war-driven world we live in today.
José Mujican spent 13 years in prison under the military dictatorship in Uruguay before devoting his life to restoring democracy and peace. He is now opposed to all war and claims that “the worst negotiation is better than the best war, and the only way to insure peace is to cultivate tolerance.” Countless wars have proven that violence obviously isn’t offering up a long term solution to our worlds religious, political, or economic problems, so why not try a new approach – a peaceful one of negation – rather than the militarized solution that has done more harm than good time and time again.
This insightful and progressive president had also spoken out against the consumption-crazy society we have created in the West, emphasizing that it is important to bring third world countries such as Africa and Asia out of poverty, but that doesn’t mean mimicking the unhealthy bubble of unnecessary consumption countries in the West have created. At one point during a conference with other world leaders he pointed out that if every Indian drove as much as those in Germany (never mind the United States!) our world would be completely depleted of resources and our earth would be in grave danger of loosing what wildlife and nature it has left. Our world won’t become a better place when everyone has three cars and a fancy house, “but they will really achieve something when there is less of a gap between the poor, the destitute and the very rich.” An environmentalist unafraid to speak his mind, José Mujican states: “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction.”
“I have the aggressive courage to speak out … maybe that’s why I get people’s attention.” He knows what is right and isn’t afraid to fight for it. He doesn’t have another agenda of power or wealth, and instead of playing the political games which have created governments into monsters, he has decided to rule his country through the principles of peace and simplicity. “We are a republican voice for the world.” By this he means a possible future, not only for Uruguay, but for the whole world to embark on a path where politicians no longer use their position of power for personal gain but rather for the greater good of all of humanity. “Politics, which should rule human relations, has succumbed to economics and become a mere administrator of what the financial system does not control.”
I do not enjoy (or understand) politics, and in general have very little respect for the rat race to the top because I have yet to see much good come out of the systems we have in place today. That being said, imagine if every politician ruled like José Mujican, without corruption, selfish ulterior motives, or an agenda to please the rich. Imagine what a world we could live in today.