José Alberto "Pepe" Mujica Cordano (Spanish pronunciation: [xoˈse muˈxika]; born May 20, 1935) is an Uruguayan politician who has been President of Uruguay since 2010. A former guerrilla fighter and a member of the Broad Front (left-wing coalition), Mujica was Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries from 2005 to 2008 and a Senator afterwards. As the candidate of the Broad Front, he won the 2009 presidential election and took office as President on 1 March 2010.
Mujica was born on 20 May 1935 to Demetrio Mujica, of Basque ancestry and Lucy Cordano of Italian descent. As a youth, Mujica was active in the National Party, where he became close to Enrique Erro.
In the early 1960s, he joined the newly formed Tupamaros movement, an armed political group inspired by the Cuban revolution. He participated in the 1969 brief takeover of Pando, a town close to Montevideo, and was later convicted by a military tribunal under the government of Jorge Pacheco Areco, who had suspended certain constitutional guarantees. Mujica was captured by the authorities on four occasions, and he was among those political prisoners who escaped Punta Carretas Prison in 1971. He was eventually re-apprehended in 1972, and was shot by the police six times. After the military coup in 1973, he was transferred to a military prison where he served 14 years. During the 1970s, this included being confined to the bottom of a well for more than two years. During his time in prison, he remained in contact with other leaders of the Tupamaros, including Frente Amplio Senator Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro and the founder and leader of the Tupamaros, Raúl Sendic.
In 1985, when democracy was restored, Mujica was freed under an amnesty law that covered political and related military crimes committed since 1962.
Several years after the restoration of democracy, Mujica and the Tupamaros joined other left-wing organizations to create the Movement of Popular Participation, a political party that was accepted within the Broad Front coalition.
In the 1994 general elections, Mujica was elected deputy and in the elections of 1999 he was elected senator. Due in part to Mujica’s charisma, the MPP continued to grow in popularity and votes, and by 2004, it had become the largest of any faction within the Broad Front. In the elections of that year, Mujica was re-elected to the Senate, and the MPP obtained over 300,000 votes, thus consolidating its position as the primary political force within the coalition and a major force behind the victory of presidential candidate Tabaré Vázquez.
Minister of Agriculture
On March 1, 2005, President Tabaré Vázquez designated Mujica as the Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries (Mujica's own professional background was in the agricultural sector.) Upon becoming minister, Mujica resigned his position as senator. He held this position until a cabinet change in 2008, when he resigned and was replaced by Ernesto Agazzi. Mujica then returned to his seat in the Senate.
Mujica with President Lula da Silva of Brazil in 2010.
Mujica's political ideology has evolved over the years from orthodox to pragmatist. In recent times he has expressed a desire for a more flexible political left that can think outside the box. His 'folksy' speaking style and manner is credited as part of his growing popularity since the late 1990s, especially among rural and poor sectors of the population. He has been variously described as an "antipolitician" and a man who "speaks the language of the people" while also receiving criticism for untimely or inappropriate remarks. Unlike president Vázquez, who vetoed a bill put forward by parliament that would make abortions legal, Mujica has stated that should it come before him in the future, he would not veto such a bill. In the sphere of international relations, he hopes to further negotiations and agreements between the European Union and the regional trade bloc Mercosur, of which Uruguay is a founding member. Throughout the ongoing dispute between Argentina and Uruguay regarding pulp mills on the shared river, Mujica has remained closer to the Argentine government than the previous administration, taking a position that could possibly help to resolve the conflict. Asked about Lula's decision to receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he answered it was a "genius move" because "The more you fence in Iran, the harder it will be for the rest of the world".
Even though President Vázquez favored his Finance Minister Danilo Astori as presidential candidate of the then unified Broad Front to succeed him in 2010, Mujica’s broad appeal and growing support within the party posed a challenge to the president. On December 14, 2008, The Extraordinary Congress “Zelmar Michelini” (a party convention) proclaimed Mujica as the official candidate of the Broad Front for primary elections of 2009, but four more precandidates were allowed to participate, including Astori. On June 28, 2009, Mujica won the primary elections becoming the presidential candidate of the Broad Front for the 2009 general election. After that, Astori agreed to be his running mate. Their campaign was centered on the concept of continuing and deepening the policies of the highly popular administration of Vázquez, using the slogan “Un gobierno honrado, un país de primera” (An honest government, a first-class country) - indirectly referencing cases of administrative corruption within the former government of the major opposition candidate, conservative Luis Alberto Lacalle. During the campaign, Mujica distanced himself from the governing style of presidents like Hugo Chávez (Venezuela) or Evo Morales (Bolivia), claiming the center-left governments of Brazilian Luis Inácio Lula da Silva or Chilean socialist Michelle Bachelet as regional examples upon which he would model his administration. Known for his informal style of dress, Mujica donned a suit (without a tie) for some stops in the presidential campaign, notably during visits to regional heads of state.
In October, Mujica won a plurality of over 48 percent of the votes compared to 30 percent for former president Lacalle, falling short of the majority required by the constitution, while at the same time renewing the Broad Front's parliamentary majority for the next legislature (2010–2015). A runoff was then held on November 29 to determine the winner; on November 30 Mujica emerged as the victor, with more than 52% of the vote over Lacalle’s 43%. In his first speech as president-elect before a crowd of supporters, Mujica acknowledged his political adversaries and called for unity, stating that there would be no winners or losers ("Ni vencidos, ni vencedores". He added that "it is a mistake to think that power comes from above, when it comes from within the hearts of the masses (...) it has taken me a lifetime to learn this", a statement that has been interpreted as an acknowledgment of the mistakes by the armed revolutionaries in the 1960s.
In 2005, Mujica married Lucía Topolansky, a fellow Tupamaro member and current senator, after many years of co-habitation. They have no children and live on an austere farm in the outskirts of Montevideo, the country's capital. His humble lifestyle is reflected by his choice of an aging Volkswagen Beetle as transport, his only asset. His wife owns the farm they live on. The Economist describes him as "a roly-poly former guerrilla who grows flowers on a small farm and swears by vegetarianism" He also donates 87% of his state salary to charitable causes. He does not believe in God.