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  HOME | Uruguay

Austerity Should Be the Norm for Leaders, Uruguay’s First Lady Says

MONTEVIDEO – Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has drawn attention “to something that should be natural in a leader, which is austerity and living according to your ideals,” first lady Lucia Topolansky said in an interview with Efe while once again serving as this South American country’s first woman acting president.

The 79-year-old Mujica returns to Montevideo on Wednesday from Mexico after an eight-day tour that also included stops in Venezuela and Ecuador, while Vice President Danilo Astori is on a foreign trip, leaving Sen. Topolansky as president pro tempore of the country.

This is the fourth time that Topolansky, a former guerrilla, has served as “symbolic president” since becoming the biggest vote-getter for the governing Broad Front coalition.

Topolansky received Efe at the well-known small farm where she lives with Mujica on the outskirts of Montevideo and plan to open an agricultural school to train 60 youngsters after the president’s term ends in March 2015.

“We are happy,” she said. “We don’t have children. This is the place we built with much effort and we want it to be left for the neighborhood and for education. When we are not here anymore, we want to be remembered as two crazy oldies who left a school.”

The 70-year-old Topolansky does not shy away from saying that during this trip she has missed the man she met over 40 years ago when both were Tupamaro guerrillas.

“It’s nice to get home and have someone to talk with because the worst thing is to be lonely,” she said, adding that the couple’s daily routine begins with sipping “mate” while they listen to the news.

Uruguay’s emblematic beef, rural traditions and soccer bring Mujica happiness, but what he loves most is “the land he began tilling as a child.”

“We do not plan to move from here,” Topolansky said. “I tell Pepe that, if I die first, he should cremate me and throw the ashes under that oak because I want to be in the earth.”

The farm, located in an area that supplies produce to Montevideo, is where the couple moved “to live and work” in 1986, a few months after they were released after serving more than a decade in prison for their guerrilla activities.

Topolansky still gets teary-eyed recalling the day in 2009 when “the unthinkable happened” and former insurgent Mujica was sworn in as constitutional president of Uruguay and his wife took the Senate seat Mujica vacated.

“On victory day, he said something brief and moving: ‘Thanks, people,’” she said.

Mujica has been lionized by members of the foreign media surprised at his austere and common-man character and plain speech.

“A few months ago, when the election campaign began, I told Pepe: you have made life difficult for anyone who wins this election, because such a peculiar presidency leaves a mark,” Topolansky said, adding that she was proud because her country “has had the intelligence to have an orderly political transition.”

The Uruguayan Constitution does not allow the re-election of a president for consecutive terms and Mujica will be succeeded in March by Tabare Vazquez, also from the Broad Front, who governed the country from 2005 to 2010.

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