Opinion and Special feature
‘World’s poorest president’ gets $1mn offer for old VW Beetle
An Arab sheikh seems to think the ‘world’s poorest president,’ Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, is in dire need of cash. He’s offered $1 million for Mujica’s iconic 1987 VW Beetle – but the pot-smoking leader says he will donate the money to the homeless instead.
“I didn’t give it any importance,” the humble ex-guerilla leader told a news conference, after the Uruguayan weekly Busqueda broke the story. He added that he has “no commitment to cars” and joked that his three-legged dog, Manuela, was pretty much the prime reason for holding on to the vehicle for so long.
Apparently it was Mexico’s ambassador to Uruguay who earlier suggested that Mujica sell off the car. They joked about how he could get 10 4WD trucks for the money, according to an anonymous source within the embassy.
In case the $1 million materializes, Mujica plans to donate the entire proceedings to a housing support program for the homeless. In case it’s the trucks, he has pledged to donate them to the country’s public health office, or to his campaign workers.
The president explained his decision by saying: “Human beings have a bit of fetishism; we need certain material symbols,” and added that he still keeps his father’s old hammer and shovel: “They are little things to the world, but are worth a lot to you.”
The leader lives on a run-down farm, which is under his wife’s name. The only other prized possession of real material value he reportedly owns is the 1987 Beetle.
As far as official declarations of wealth go, Mujica earns a comfortable $11,000 a month, 20 percent of which goes to his political movement. He reportedly donates most of the rest of his salary to charities supporting the poor.
The social climate in Uruguay changed in 2010, when Mujica secured his victory. The former guerilla led a radical overhaul of drug policies on cannabis possession, setting a blueprint for other Latin American countries. The legalization of cannabis enabled Uruguayan authorities to combat the neighboring Paraguayan drug trade.
Mujica is widely seen as one of the world’s most down-to-earth leaders, who has often emphasized the need for people to love one another and not focus on the material.
“A president is a high-level official who is elected to carry out a function. He is not a king, not a god. He is not the witch doctor of a tribe who knows everything. He is a civil servant. I think the ideal way of living is to live like the vast majority of people whom we attempt to serve and represent,” he once told Al Jazeera.
As for addictions, the only one Mujica says matters is “love.”