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Tuesday 29 October 2013

On "The Poorest President in the World" and Clueless Gringo Left- and Right-Wing Misconceptions

 So this image has been going around the internet for quite some time now, or variants of the same (the particular example here seems to be from a "new-atheist" group):

I live in Uruguay, so I thought perhaps I ought to educated people about this. "Pepe" Mujica is generally seen as a very admired figure here these days, and technically speaking nothing in the picture above is wrong. He does give back 90% of his money (however, he also said he's very troubled by this internet meme that rose up about it, because it makes him sound like he's somehow praising poverty, when in fact he says he doesn't believe poverty is a good thing, he wants to get rid of it!).  He is leader of the party that legalized marijuana and same-sex marriage in uruguay. He's a Maoist-oriented Communist and former MLN "Tupamaro" rebel leader (that's still now the name of his political party), so he probably is an atheist, yes (inasmuch as he believes in Marx instead of God).

I have heard, however, some people engaging in some mistaken assumptions about the guy (and by association, about this country), aside from the aforementioned notion that Mujica seeks to glorify poverty or believes that poverty is a better state to be in than wealth. His general tone in reaction to that, by the way, has struck me as always inflected with quite a bit of scorn toward affluent first-world internet-liberals not understanding fuck-all about what they're talking about.  Only someone who's never actually seen REAL poverty could ever try to imply that its in any way a desirable state for mankind, or that its somehow praiseworthy.

In any case, the other big confusion I've tended to see about the guy coming from the clueless gringos is that he was a "freedom fighter" in the 1960s (implying that he was fighting for democracy against a dictatorial regime), or that he is in fact now a Chavez-style petit-dictator whose election win was somehow dubious or who plans to dismantle Uruguayan democracy.  Usually its the lefties who want to believe the former, and conservatives who make the latter claim.  Neither is right.

In the 1960s, the Tupamaros in Uruguay were a terrorist guerilla movement. They were NOT "fighting an oppressive regime".  The Tupamaros began in the early 1960s and most of their violent terrorist/rebel actions took place in the late 1960s, when Uruguay was a DEMOCRATIC republic with a legally-elected president.  There is some controversy because now that they're the government, they have tried to revise how the history is taught in schools, making it sound like the Tupamaros "rose up" to fight the dictatorship that happened in 1973-1983, but that's not true. The guerillas happened FIRST, they attacked a democratic government, and the dictatorship only happened later in part BECAUSE of the guerilla movement having left democracy so damaged in the country.
And of course, it was NOT the Tupamaros' goal to "fight for democracy". They were fighting AGAINST democracy with the clearly-stated goal of taking over the government by violent force and forcibly imposing a Soviet-style marxist-lenninst state in Uruguay.

Mujica, who was shot six times and imprisoned for 14 years for his terrorist insurgency, probably killed people at that time (his wife, who is now a senator and was also a rebel, admits that she killed people, I personally know someone whose uncle she killed).  However, since the restoration of democracy in Uruguay in 1984, Mujica has also publicly stated that he rejects his former ideas about armed uprising as a path to social change and that he now believes in the democratic process.  Many on the right here tried to keep pointing to his guerilla fighter past as a criticism, and that's definitely valid; but a lot of them tried to imply (when he was running for president) that he still had a plan to instill a marxist-leninist state, and he clearly does not.  The larger "Frente Amplio" coalition his party is a part of has been governing the country now for some 8 years, Mujica for 3 of those, and there has been no "chavista"-style repression of the press or appropriation of private property.  In fact, his government has come at a time of unprecedented economic growth for the  country, and generally speaking Mujica has been good for business.

Just for the record, today Uruguay has one of the most stable democracies in South America, and is one of the most economically prosperous countries. And while (however unjustifiably they try to do so) President Mujica and the Frente Amplio cannot take credit for being the sole cause of that prosperity and stability, they certainly have played their part in allowing it to happen.

So anyways, while technically true, most of those Mujica caption-memes don't really tell the full story. Except for this one, this one is awesome:


Currently Smoking: Neerup Poker + Brebbia no. 8


  1. Appreciate the piece. People forget how complex and multi-faceted the world generally is, in favour for "simple answers" that are almost always wrong.

    Also, the second picture is hilarious.