MONTEVIDEO – Self-proclaimed “ordinary” Uruguayans are using social networks to organize a mass farewell to President Jose “Pepe” Mujica on the eve of the March 1 inauguration of his successor, former head of state Tabare Vazquez.
So far, roughly 5,000 people have signed up on Facebook to gather in Montevideo’s Independence Square at sundown on Feb. 28 for a flag-lowering ceremony.
“Let us accompany the president at the moment of the flag-lowering at the National Pavilion,” reads the original message on Facebook. “Let us go to the square carrying Uruguayan flags.”
The ceremony, traditionally attended by throngs of officials and diplomats, entails the lowering of the flag that has flown over the presidential palace and its presentation to the outgoing head of state by members of the Presidential Guard.
Haydee Garcia, one of the organizers of the sendoff for Mujica, said the intention is “to reward, thank and recognize a man who has been so close to the people.”
Mujica, 79, is a former Tupamaro guerrilla who spent more than a decade in prison under the 1973-1985 military regime. As president, he has won international admiration for his modest lifestyle and forthrightness, and for promoting measures such as the legalization of marijuana.
“We are ordinary citizens, we don’t hold government or political posts,” Garcia said. “We are workers, common people, with a low profile, and we want to keep it that way.”
Hundreds of thousands of Uruguayans lined the streets of Montevideo for Mujica’s March 1, 2010, inauguration, cheering as the “Pepemobile” carried him from Congress to Independence Square to receive the presidential sash.
On the previous day, then-outgoing chief executive Tabare Vazquez was cheered by some 5,000 people who turned the flag-lowering ceremony into an homage to the first leftist president in the country’s history.
“In 2010,” Garcia recalled, “the media announced the (flag) event and many of us spontaneously decided to attend.”
The Facebook campaign also invites Uruguayans to support the All Together Plan, a Mujica initiative to help low-income families to build homes, and to which the president has donated most of his salary.
Mujica, who remains extremely popular, could not seek re-election because Uruguay’s constitution bans a president from serving consecutive terms.