MONTEVIDEO – Jose Mujica might go down in history as Uruguay’s “poor” president, but his austere ways – so fascinating to global media – are not that different from the lifestyles of most of his predecessors in the small South American republic’s 185-year history.
Alejandro Gimenez, author of “The Book of Uruguayan Presidents,” told Efe in an interview that the last 39 heads of state have been sober both in their policies and their personal lives.
The book covers the first constitutional president, Jose Fructuoso Rivera, who governed from 1830-1834, through Mujica, who became president in 2010.
“Uruguayan presidents never go around in armored cars and they travel with few bodyguards,” the author said, adding that Cabinet ministers can likewise be spotted walking down a street or joining Carnival parades.
This is a result of the extraordinary safety in the country and because “Uruguayan citizens would not look favorably on a president who flaunts luxury,” Gimenez said.
Mujica only reflects “what Uruguay has always been,” a low-profile country that values sobriety, although in his case, Gimenez said, the austerity is “a little bit excessive and comes from his humble origins.”
The historian says that while Mujica, a former guerrilla, has struggled to adjust to the etiquette of politics and is sometimes guilty of “verbal incontinence,” his hallmark is “great pragmatism.”
Gimenez estimates that history will remember Mujica because of the international impact his administration is having and which helped to “place Uruguay on the map,” and because his government “increased foreign tourism.”
With only a few months left in his mandate it is hard to know whether Uruguayans will long perceive Mujica as one of their most prominent presidents, but according to Gimenez, he has already “broken the mold” internationally.
Mujica is the last president on this edition of Gimenez book of presidents, a work he first published in 2000 and updates as needed. The latest version was presented on Oct. 6 at the International Book Fair with an eye on the upcoming elections on Oct. 26.