January 21, 2018
Tuesday, May 13, 2014

From jail to the Oval Office

By James Grainger
News Editor
Nearly everyone knows a few facts about Jose “Pepe” Mujica. He drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. He almost never wears a tie. He lives in a farmhouse and donates nearly all of his presidential salary to charity. And perhaps most famously, he used to be a guerilla leader in the Tupamaros movement, an armed group inspired by the Cuban revolution.

So no-one could fail to appreciate the symbolism yesterday when he entered the Oval Office. Pepe Mujica has come a long way from the days of taking over towns and robbing food trucks. As Uruguay’s El País wrote this week, it was his first trip to “the heart of the empire that he (once) railed against.”

Of course, Mujica is not the first Uruguayan leader to visit the White House. But he clearly realizes the importance of Uruguay’s relationship with the US. In an interview with The Guardian last year, in which he discussed his outlook, he said this:

“I’m just sick of the way things are. We’re in an age in which we can’t live without accepting the logic of the market,” he said.

Doesn’t sound like someone who would have much in common with president of the United States, does it?

But Mujica has garnered a reputation in office as someone who is a pragmatist, rather than a stickler for principles. His approach to the legalization of marijuana in Uruguay backs this view — he has argued the move is not a result of trying to be “more liberal,” rather it’s the result of a “logical” approach.

Pablo Brum, an author who’s published a book on the history of the Tupamaros, tried to explain Uruguay’s president in an interview with the US radio station NPR this week.

“When you think you’ve understood Mujica, when you think you’ve defined him, he will surprise you with something completely different and new and even contradictory.”

And so, perhaps we can consider yesterday’s trip to the Oval Office as just another page in the epic story of Mujica, his ideals and his pragmatism.


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