Friday, 3 January 2014
Uruguayan President Mujica is Being Praised for the Wrong Reason
I know I've been doing a lot of blog entries about Uruguay lately, not sure why that is. I promise I'll be getting back to RPGs and other topics shortly; but as I found myself today in the curious circumstance of sitting at a Uruguayan McDonald's (while waiting to go to an appointment for an annual checkup at my HMO), I found myself thinking about the subject yet again.
First, a note about Uruguayan McDonalds: They have better tasting hamburgers than in North America. Why? Because they're obliged to use Uruguayan beef, which is much better quality (organic and high-grade). But that's not the only difference: their coffee is really astounding, possibly taking advantage of the absence of Starbucks and trying to make inroads in a country that demands good coffee. You can get a "cortado" (what I think you'd call a macchiato) and three good-sized fresh-baked croissants for about $3.25US.
In some ways, this is emblematic of the Uruguayan economic boom: while other countries in latin-america have chosen to engage in the folly of absurd populist socialism, nationalization of industries, and attacks against foreign investment, Uruguay has become one of the most prosperous economies of the continent by engaging in a policy of encouraging foreign investors in all areas, but in a way that tries very hard to benefit the national economy.
And in what seems like insane irony, all this is being run by a former Maoist Guerilla Fighter, the now world-famous Pepe Mujica.
How can this be?
International reporting of Uruguay, and Mujica, has been at an all-time high this past year: between the facebook meme of "the World's Poorest President" (a title Mujica DESPISES, by the way; he hates the notion that he's somehow idolizing poverty, when in fact his stated desire is to get rid of poverty), the legalization of abortion, gay marriage, and marijuna, Uruguay has certainly become very hip of late.
The reporting tends to get the details all wrong, however. Sometimes in absurd and stupid ways; the Economist (usually pretty reliable) went so far as to absurdly report that Mujica is a vegetarian; how on god's green earth they came up with that one no one knows, but trust me, he isn't. I've eaten his favorite dish at one of his favorite restaurants: its a "rustic" beef steak.
More dubious, and far more serious, however, is the notion some people in the media, the blogosphere, and the social networks have that Mujica's wonderful leadership is thanks to his hardcore populist-socialist credentials. Unlike the vegetarianism nonsense, its more understandable how someone could get that wrong. I've had to deal with clueless imbeciles trying to portray Mujica as a populist leader in the style of the late Hugo Chavez, the moronic frankenstein who replaced him, Evo Morales, or the hopelessly idiotic and corrupt Kirchner dynasty in Argentina who have run their country to the ground (to the point that there is now open looting and riots in all of that country's major cities, and rolling blackouts across its capital due to an ever-increasing economic crisis). The know-nothing fashionable-liberals of the internet want to imagine that Mujica's (and Uruguay's) success has somehow vindicated that style of leftist politics in South America. What they fail to understand is that Mujica made a point of not being that style of leftist politician, even though he had every opportunity to do so.
There was one crucial difference: Unlike Evo Morales, unlike Hugo Chavez, unlike the fucking retard who replaced Chavez, unlike Christina Kirschner, all of whom were do-nothing opportunists with no serious leftist credentials (though that's never stopped anyone in the radical left), Jose Mujica WAS actually a real communist. He was a real 100% serious, possibly-shot-people, fought-in-a-guerilla-war, got-shot-six-times, spent-15-years-as-a-political-prisoner (he literally spent two years in solitary confinement at the bottom of a well) communist insurgent. He wanted, in the 1960s, to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Uruguay, and replace it with a Cuban-style communist dictatorship.
And of course, not every guy who goes through that story gets a change of heart, but it worked for Mandela (who only some remember was also a violent communist revolutionary) and it worked for Mujica too: because after he got out in a general amnesty he rejected first the idea of violent revolution, and later came to reject the economic theory that he had previously cleaved to and the "Bolivarean" Chavez-style populist-socialism that was sweeping the continent. In his inauguration address, which I got to see in person, Mujica STUNNED his own party when he said that the thing he wanted to do most was encourage and help business in Uruguay because that was the way to get out of poverty.
Instead of going on grand schemes based on ideology, Mujica chose (I quote) "to prioritize what's productive, to get people working" and "here we don't try to reach up for the sky".
So here was a guy who was more legit than any of these assholes. If he wanted to, he could have become a Populist "El-presidente" Chavez-style idealogue at the drop of a hat and his credentials would have been impeccable; he could have made all the great 'socialist paradise' reforms that have left Venezuela, Bolivia, and Argentina bankrupt and in economic and social chaos. But instead, he decided to do what actually WORKS. Instead of nationalization and repressing opposition and radicalizing the military and droning on about bullshit revolution and looting businesses and glorifying poverty while making sure to steal millions and bankrupt one's nation without meaningfully improving the economic chances for the poor, Mujica put his bets on encouraging business, encouraging education, trying (in the face of massive Union opposition) to reform the post-secondary education system to modernize it, and heavily promoting the internet and information-technology as a potentially huge economic future for the country (the eventual plan is for Uruguay to try to have the fastest per-capita internet speeds in the world, and to try to make Uruguay the regional IT-hub the way small countries have done in other regions), while adopting a strong liberal (one could say "libertine") platform on social issues. He hasn't succeeded (and probably won't succeed) in all of these things, and the country is still burdened with a ridiculous level of bureaucratic bloat, corrupt Union influence, and various social problems that won't be likely to go away, but even if Mujica had only done half of what he's done, it would still have left Uruguay in a much better position than all of the failed wrecks of glorious-socialist-revolutionary-experiments that surround it.
Most recently, I was pretty shocked to read (in an interview only a couple of days ago), Mujica said that thankfully, the Tupamaros didn't have the chance to impose the ideas they had in the 1960s or Uruguay would be (again I quote) "in ruins" today. He left it without saying that those sort of ideas have left so many of Uruguay's neighbours in ruins. Every single country that adopted the populist-style Chavista-socialism is a wreck right now, while all the countries that are doing relatively well in South America are those who took another route, whether it be the basically conservative policies of Chile (the top economy in South America) or Colombia, or the sensible moderate-socialism of Brazil, or the new modernizing education-and-technology long-term-thinking socialism of Pepe Mujica (the full benefits of which will only really become visible many years after Mujica's gone, assuming some later government doesn't end up derailing the whole thing and turning it all to shit; Mujica's Frente Amplio party certainly has no lack of little would-be-Chavezes).
So I agree, Mujica deserves praise. But he doesn't deserve praise for being a radical-socialist populist ultra-leftist president; he deserves praise because he chose not to be.
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