A President sets a rich precedent

Published - November 18, 2012 11:31 pm IST - LONDON:

Uruguay'sPresident Jose Mujica works onhis flower farm .

Uruguay'sPresident Jose Mujica works onhis flower farm .

A ramshackle farm off a rural dirt road. The family’s laundry is strung on a washing line out in the open. And water comes from a well surrounded by overgrown weeds.

It might read like a description of an impoverished farmer’s house, but, actually, this is the residence of Uruguay’s left-wing President Jose Mujica who has shunned the luxurious presidential house to live on his wife’s modest farm outside the capital Montevideo.

The 77-year-old charismatic former revolutionary, who has been dubbed the world’s “poorest president”, gives away 90 per cent of his monthly salary — equivalent of $12,000 — to charity.

The only visible “trappings of power” are two police officers lounging around with a three-legged dog Manuela to keep company. And, yes, there’s also a run-down Volkswagen Beetle parked under a crumbling shed. He describes it as his “most valued” possession.

In 2010, a year after he came to power, he declared a personal annual wealth of just $1,800 — about two-third of Vice-President Danilo Astori’s declared wealth, and a third of the figure declared by his predecessor, Tabare Vasquez.

“I’ve lived like this most of my life. I can live well with what I have”, he told the BBC pointing out that he enjoyed the freedom that came with living without the burden of wealth.

“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. This is a matter of freedom. If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself.” A soft-spoken grey-haired figure, Mr. Mujica shrugs off criticism that he is “eccentric”.

“I may appear to be an eccentric old man... But this is a free choice”, he said, in turn, criticising his critics for their “obsession” with consumerism.

Most world leaders, he said, had a “blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world”. And he has no intention of emulating them.

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