José Mujica in Guatemala: “Politics isn’t for money-making”
By Patricia Macías – EntreMundos Correspondent
José ‘Pepe’ Mujica, former president of Uruguay and current senator, visited Guatemala on August 18th to give a speech before the 6th Esquipulas Regional Forum on the moral challenges of being human in an era of political and economic globalization. The hype only grew after upon arrival he was greeted by a caravan of 30 Volkswagen Beetles that escorted him to his hotel; during his presidency, he drove his own Beetle instead of using official vehicles, refused to live in the presidential palace, and donated 90% of his earnings to charity. He explains, “Poor isn’t he who has little, but he who needs much.”
In his now famous speech on globalization before the UN in 2013, he said, “We promise a life of consuming and squandering that creates a countdown against nature, against future humankind. It is a civilization against simplicity, against sobriety, against all natural cycles, but above all, it is civilization against liberty, which means time to live, human relations, love, friendship, adventure, solidarity, family.”
Under his leadership, poverty in Uruguay fell dramatically and the economy and foreign investment grew. Uruguay legalized gay marriage, abortion under narrow circumstances, and the sale of marijuana in government pharmacies to steal profits from drug cartels and fund social programs.
He explained this economic success before the US Chamber of Commerce: “We’re not corrupt. We don’t go around looking for bribes from businessmen. We’re a decent country. We have a national workers’ union where all ideologies are present… We’re friends of businessmen, but we don’t sell them our souls nor do we buy their wealth. From this point of view, we’re a country that gives huge guarantees.”
With a political past of over 30 years that includes his years as a leftist guerrilla fighting a dictatorship, six bullet wounds, and fifteen years in prison, Mujica at 80 years old expresses with vigor and simplicity many of the ills that plague our world. His visit to Guatemala coincided with a turning point in Guatemala’s history defined by corruption scandals, popular protests, and the coming elections. Mujica’s humanist social ideas perfectly express much of the current injustice in Guatemala that has propelled so many into the streets.
“Those who really like money, those who can’t live without the prospect of being rich, those who believe that human happiness is to accumulate wealth, must be expelled from politics.” It can’t be said more clearly that avaricious and corrupt politicians have no place in a government that calls itself democratic. Mujica also encouraged Guatemalans to increase their civic participation. “Democracy means much more than voting. It means a continual commitment from citizens to define citizenship.”
Immersed in an election year, it’s impossible not to listen to ideas like this: “Democracy is in jeopardy when platforms that are impossible to fulfill are put forward demagogically or during an election. This creates expectations that cannot be fulfilled.” How many political parties break basic election laws? Infinite but empty political ads is all many offer us these days, insulting the intelligence of the Guatemalan electorate and its ability to choose.
Mujica also spoke of the lack of unity and strength in Latin America, which is another of its weaknesses when it must contend with the global economy. Countries focused on exporting raw materials that don’t create their own industries are in a weak position when dealing with global powers. When he was asked in the forum about the economic evils of monocrop plantations and mining endemic to the global south, he said that national policies should not simply supply the western world with raw materials, but should seek a balance of interests, also mentioning the responsibility of consumers who are ignorant of where their goods come from and how they’re produced.
It was difficult not to be struck by the oratory of the former president, who was continually interrupted by applause and cheering. His wise truths excite and inspire even the most skeptical. “I don’t speak of miracles… I’m fighting for common sense; the most important things are simple. We cannot fight because our lives are eternal, but we can fight so that the lives of the generations to come are eternally better.”
Mujica finished his speech with “¡Viva America! ¡Viva Guatemala! ¡Viva the hope for a better humanity!” And I can’t resist finishing this article with a loud ¡Viva Pepe!