Jose Mujica, , giving a speech at the Universidad de Costa Rica last week
Jose Mujica, “the world’s ‘humblest’ president” , giving a speech at the Universidad de Costa Rica last week

QCOSTARICA – “There is no supermarket to buy years of life, life will pass you by and you will have to take stock of how you spent it,” were the words of advice, forcefully imparted to the audience at the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) by Uruguay’s former president, Jose Mujica.

Mujica was in Costa Rica last week (on Wednesday) to give the lecture at the Cuidad Investigacion (City of Research) of the UCR, where he spoke on various topics such as the negative effects of capitalism, the environment and even happiness.

The former president said that governments should not only worry about the development of their countries, but also have a duty to ensure the welfare of its citizens.

“Development without happiness is worse than any tall tale (cuento chino in Spanish),” said the Uruguayan.

Mujica also referred to the disadvantages in Latin America in relation to other first world countries, a situation that makes it inconvenient for trade agreements due to inequities.

Before visiting the UCR, Mujica took the time to meet with President Luis Guillermo Solis at Casa Presidencial (government house in Zapote), where they discussed issues such as legal unions between the same-sex, legalization of marijuana and the implementation of a value added tax (VAT).

José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano was president of Uruguay between 2010 and 2014. A former urban guerilla fighter, imprisoned for 13 years during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, he has been described as “the world’s ‘humblest’ president”, due to his austere lifestyle and donation of around 90% of his US$12,000 monthly salary (as president) to charities that benefit the poor and small entrepreneurs.

I have no intention of being an old pensioner, sitting in a corner writing my memoirs – no way! Jose Mujica

In June 2012, his government made a controversial move to legalize state-controlled sales of marijuana in Uruguay in order to fight drug-related crimes and health issues, and stated that they would ask global leaders to do the same. Mujica said that by regulating Uruguay’s estimated US$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 that which is done with alcoholics.

On 1 March 2015, Mujica’s term as president came to a conclusion. According to BBC correspondent Wyre Davies, “Mujica left office with a relatively healthy economy and with social stability those bigger neighbours could only dream of.”

Mujica in his Beetle.
Mujicaa behind the wheel of his Beetle.

Having no children, Mujica and his wife, Lucía Topolansky, live on an austere farm in the outskirts of Montevideo (Uruguay’s capital city) where they cultivate chrysanthemums for sale, having declined to live in the opulent presidential palace or use its staff. His humble lifestyle is reflected by his choice of an aging Volkswagen Beetle as transport. In 2010, the value of the car was US$1,800 and represented the entirety of the mandatory annual personal wealth declaration filed by Mujica for that year. In November 2014, the Uruguayan newspaper Búsqueda reported that he had been offered 1 million dollars for the car, which was manufactured in 1987; he said that if he did get 1 million dollars for the car it would be donated to house the homeless through a programme that he supports.

His wife owns the farm they live on. Also living at the farm is his three-legged dog, Manuela.