The political culture that is Uruguay

by on November 16, 2012 at 11:26 am in Current Affairs, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Laundry is strung outside the house. The water comes from a well in a yard, overgrown with weeds. Only two police officers and Manuela, a three-legged dog, keep watch outside.

This is the residence of the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, whose lifestyle clearly differs sharply from that of most other world leaders.

President Mujica has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife’s farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo.

The president and his wife work the land themselves, growing flowers.

This austere lifestyle – and the fact that Mujica donates about 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity – has led him to be labelled the poorest president in the world.

…His charitable donations – which benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs – mean his salary is roughly in line with the average Uruguayan income of $775 (£485) a month.

In 2010, his annual personal wealth declaration – mandatory for officials in Uruguay – was $1,800 (£1,100), the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.

The article is here, and for the pointer I thank Adam Dayan.

Jonathan November 16, 2012 at 11:31 am
Ray Lopez November 16, 2012 at 11:42 am

Do the Boys from Brazil have secret numbered Swiss bank accounts? Or are they really as poor as a Vatican church mouse? Cynics would claim poverty is a political ploy. But the head hombre of U is right about legalizing pot. Even if he’s being bribed by some narcotrafficer perhaps.

david November 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm

This works until someone in a population of millions goes nuts and decides to assassinate someone, a la Olof Palme.

So Much For Subtlety November 16, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Well that might not work for him, but what is the downside for the rest of us? Sweden seems to be working fine even without Palme.

Roy November 17, 2012 at 5:33 am

Are we sure it was some nut?

But even after Anna Lind, Sweden still manages. I think that is of particular value. In a democracy the leaders should not be treated like gods.

fallibilist November 17, 2012 at 5:51 am

President Obama’s Praetorian Guard would like to have a word with you.

j r November 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Good for him, so long as this is legit austerity and not the sort of stage-manged poverty that actually takes more resources to maintain.

Rahul November 16, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Forgot who it was that said…… “It costs a great deal of money to keep Gandhi living in poverty”

GiT November 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Sarojini Naidu.

Of course, it cost a lot of money to fund the ashrams and such that Gandhi supported. It didn’t cost much to keep him poor.

So Much For Subtlety November 16, 2012 at 10:15 pm

When Gandhi had to be followed everywhere by 24 virgin goats to provide him with fresh milk, I think it was probably a little costly.

A large part of what Gandhi did was pointless gesture. Much of it actually counter productive. Most of the rest was positively harmful. People were right to point out what a humbug he was. History is unlikely to be as kind as public opinion is these days.

Ranjit Suresh November 17, 2012 at 12:44 am

Is history a person like lady liberty?

Forget it. History will be kind to Gandhi because it’ll be written by still relatively fecund brown skinned people.

Rahul November 17, 2012 at 1:26 am

@Ranjit Suresh

Ironically, a higher percentage of browns might actually dislike Gandhi than Whites.

In India, for example Gandhi bashing is a common pastime.

So Much for Subtlety November 17, 2012 at 5:12 am

It is odd that Indians, or at least some Indians, admire the man while rejecting his legacy. Which was clearly so absurd most admirers pass over it in silence. Does India really need to reject everything since the spinning wheel including modern medicine? Not to mention his odd views about Hitler. Which means the historians of the future may admire him, but only if they ignore everything he said or wanted for India.

But you may be right about the more fecund peoples. But this means victory will go to the most dysfunctional. Which is a shame for the Parsis, it really is. Still, while India has plenty of dysfunctional regions, it does suggest that Aurangzeb will have the last laugh and India will be a Muslim-majority country. Which is turn suggests that Gandhi won’t get such a good press after all.

Rahul November 17, 2012 at 8:51 am

@So Much For Subtlety

I’m skeptical of your speculation about a ” Muslim-majority India” anytime soon. The percentage of Muslims in India is currently only ~14%.

Since 1991, the largest decline in fertility rates in India has occurred among Muslims. The projections I’ve seen predict a Muslim population of 16% by 2030 and ~18% by 2100.

So Aurangzeb might have a long wait ahead, if he’s ever going to get that laugh.

prior_approval November 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm

One should also mention is not religious – ‘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[23] as transport, his only asset.[24] His wife owns the farm they live on. The Economist describes him as “a roly-poly former guerrilla who grows flowers on a small farm and swears by vegetarianism”.[25] He also donates most of his state salary to charitable causes; in 2012 this amounted to 90%.[26][27][28][29] He does not believe in a god.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/José_Mujica#Personal_life

But he is this -

‘Elected in 2009, Mujica spent the 1960s and 1970s as part of the Uruguayan guerrilla Tupamaros, a leftist armed group inspired by the Cuban revolution.

He was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail. Most of his detention was spent in harsh conditions and isolation, until he was freed in 1985 when Uruguay returned to democracy.

Those years in jail, Mujica says, helped shape his outlook on life.’ (From the linked article – metafilter already covered him a few days ago.)

And he almost sounds like a character from the Le Guin novel ‘The Dispossessed’ -

‘”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,” he says.’

As is often the case, the unmentioned is more interesting than the putative point.

So Much For Subtlety November 16, 2012 at 9:21 pm

It is interesting how weak the West’s victory in the Cold War really was. The Terrorists who tried to destroy democracy in Latin America now hold office. The General who responded to their violence are now in jail.

We may have outlasted the Soviet Union, but they won the battle of ideas. That is the real lesson of Uruguay. And Brazil.

prior_approval November 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm

And I thought the real lesson of Brazil was that they are better deepwater oil drillers than either the U.S. or the former Soviet Union.

prior_approval November 17, 2012 at 12:45 am

And let us not forget this Nobel Peace Prize winner’s thoughts on the matter of letting voters decide elections in South America -

‘”I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

– Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, about Chile prior to the CIA overthrow of the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvadore Allende in 1973

So Much for Subtlety November 17, 2012 at 5:17 am

That is an interesting case of trying to change the subject by bringing up irrelevancies. Let’s all agree the Central European Secretary of State was a Bond-style villain. So what? Kissinger believed in democracy and human rights for some people, perhaps even for all people. Which puts him in a totally different category to the Presidents of Uruguay and Brazil. Who only wanted to murder millions. They just didn’t have the public support and the functioning society HK did.

prior_approval November 17, 2012 at 8:54 am

Didn’t read the quote, did you? Kissinger did not believe the Chileans were entitled to vote for their own leaders, and was part of the process of ensuring that a CIA coup overthrew a democratic election.

‘Let’s all agree the Central European Secretary of State was a Bond-style villain.’
Why would I agree that a Nobel Peace Prize winner is a Bond style villain? After all, Henry Kissinger’s actions as an official of the American Goverment are well document facts, and not some fantasy diversion.

‘Which puts him in a totally different category to the Presidents of Uruguay and Brazil. Who only wanted to murder millions.’

Have you thought about writing fantasy professionally, instead of just in comment sections? (Hint – population of Uruguay, 2011 census – 3,286,314)

Or note this information from wikipedia –

‘For most of Uruguay’s history, the Partido Colorado has been in government. However, in the Uruguayan general election, 2009, the Broad Front won an absolute majority in Parliamentary elections, and José Mujica of the Broad Front defeated Luis Alberto Lacalle of the Blancos to win the presidency.

A 2010 Latinobarómetro poll found that, within Latin America, Uruguayans are among the most supportive of democracy and by far the most satisfied with the way democracy works in their country.’

Electing a party that an absolute majority of the citizens want would certainly demonstrate how that works in our modern age. The one where Kissinger is no longer to decide which elections count, and which deserve a CIA sponsored coup in reaction.

So Much for Subtlety November 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Well no, Kissenger saw that a minority of Chileans had elected someone who was taking Chile down a violent and undemocratic path. He thought that was a mistake – and the Army had the ability to do something about it. Which they did. He still, in general, believed in democracy even if not in this specific case. Unlike the Presidents of Uruguay and Brazil who rejected democracy on principle. That is what makes them different. Stalinists on the one hand, democrats on the other. See the difference?

I notice you do not provide us with the population of Brazil. Sure, he may have had some trouble murdering millions in Uruguay but that is irrelevant. Communists are by definition Internationalists. He wanted to bring that Stalinist approach to Kulaks to all the world.

Perhaps Uruguayans are happy with their democracy. Good for them. I am happy for them. But that does not change the fact that they have democracy because of people like Kissnger and Pinochet. Because of Project Condor. Because people like their President did not get his way, because he lost the Cold War, because he spent all that time in prison.

Electing a President the majority of people want is how the modern world works because Kissinger got his way and Mujica did not. Now Mujica’s views have changed. Excellent news for the people of Uruguay. I doubt he thanks his God every night that the prayers of his youth were not granted. But he should.

Norman Pfyster November 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I guess being president of Uruguay does not make many demands on his time. Working the land and doing laundry by hand is time-consuming. Then there is that whole eating thing, but maybe it’s cheap to eat in Uruguay. Good thing he found a sugar momma to take care of him. It is interesting that he doesn’t have to list his wife’s property on his declaration.

rpenm November 16, 2012 at 7:05 pm

She is also a public official – before their marriage she was a Deputy, and is currently a Senator. Presumably her finances are also public.

Ernesto November 17, 2012 at 12:38 pm

One of the best articles about the latin culture in Uruguay. Thanks for sharing…

Ernesto Z. Cabron November 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm

A “Time Share Scam Consultant” is now resorting to spam? Ernesto, you are a jerk albeit a jerk with a sense of irony.

Trey November 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm

“Self-sufficiency is poverty”, Matt Ridley.

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