It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.

Simple life - Comment on 2013 January 5

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The president laments that so many societies considered economic growth a priority, calling this “a problem for our civilization” because of the demands on the planet’s resources. Read more:

Today I read an article about a man who lives a simple life. The man’s name is José Mujica. He is the president of Uruguay.

I now bring some extracts from the article:

 

After years in solitary, an austere life as Uruguay’s president

Some world leaders live in palaces. Some enjoy perks like having a discreet butler, a fleet of yachts or a wine cellar with vintage Champagnes. Then there is José Mujica, the former guerrilla who is Uruguay’s president. He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo’s outskirts with no servants at all. His security detail: two plainclothes officers parked on a dirt road.

In a deliberate statement to this cattle-exporting nation of 3.3 million people, Mr. Mujica, 77, shunned the opulent Suárez y Reyes presidential mansion, with its staff of 42, remaining instead in the home where he and his wife have lived for years, on a plot of land where they grow chrysanthemums for sale in local markets.

Visitors reach Mr. Mujica’s austere dwelling after driving down O’Higgins Road, past groves of lemon trees. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 — the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor.

“We have done everything possible to make the presidency less venerated,” Mr. Mujica said in an interview one recent morning, after preparing a serving in his kitchen of mate, the herbal drink offered in a hollowed calabash gourd and commonly shared in dozens of sips through the same metal straw.

Passing around the gourd, he acknowledged that his laid-back presidential lifestyle might seem unusual. Still, he said it amounted to a conscious choice to forgo the trappings of power and wealth. Quoting the Roman court-philosopher Seneca, Mr. Mujica said, “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”

The leader at the helm of Uruguay’s changes, known to his many detractors and supporters alike as Pepe, is someone few thought could ever rise to such a position.

A brutal counterinsurgency subdued the Tupamaros, and the police captured Mr. Mujica in 1972. He spent 14 years in prison, including more than a decade in solitary confinement, often in a hole in the ground. During that time, he would go more than a year without bathing, and his companions, he said, were a tiny frog and rats with whom he shared crumbs of bread.

Some of the other Tupamaros who were placed for years in solitary confinement failed to grasp the benefits of befriending rodents. One of them, Henry Engler, a medical student, underwent a severe mental breakdown before his release in 1985.

Mr. Mujica rarely speaks about his time in prison. Seated at a table in his garden, sipping his mate, he said it gave him time to reflect. “I learned that one can always start again,” he said.

He chose to start again by entering politics. Elected as a legislator, he shocked the parking attendants at Parliament by arriving on a Vespa.

Before Mr. Mujica won the 2009 election by a wide margin, his opponent, Luis Alberto Lacalle, disparaged his small house here as a “cave.” After that, Mr. Mujica also upset some in Uruguay’s political establishment by selling off a presidential residence in a seaside resort city, calling the property “useless.”

His donations leave him with roughly $800 a month of his salary.

With two years remaining in his term, Mr. Mujica seems to cherish the freedom to speak his mind. About his religious beliefs, he said he was still searching for God.

He laments that so many societies considered economic growth a priority, calling this “a problem for our civilization” because of the demands on the planet’s resources. (Interestingly enough, Uruguay’s economy is still expanding comfortably at an estimated annual rate of 3.6 percent.)

 

See 2012 Dec 11 – A radical growth critic

 

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