Person of interest: Uruguay’s philosopher president

Uruguay undertook a major social transformation a decade ago, thanks in large part to its former president Jose Mujica, an ex-revolutionary and ambitious reformer. Often dubbed the world’s humblest president, Mujica was president from 2010 to 2015 and oversaw a period of liberalization and social reforms.

A one-time guerilla fighter with a left-wing insurgency group, Mujica was imprisoned for 14 years during Uruguay’s military dictatorship in the 1980s and 90s. After constitutional democracy was restored in 1985, Mujica was elected to Uruguay’s parliament.

As president, Mujica oversaw a strong economy, legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, and even nationalized the sale of marijuana in an attempt to wrest power from drug cartels.

Mujica also preached a return to simplicity, addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 to promote the values of love and solidarity over consumerism and the creation of wealth. While president, Mujica donated 90% of his salary to charity, commuted to work on a 60-year-old bicycle, and chose to live at his family’s chrysanthemum farm instead of the presidential palace.

In the years since Mujica left office, Uruguay has scored among the highest in the region on metrics for democracy, development, and overall happiness. Additionally, Mercer Research found that Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, had the highest quality of life of any city in Latin America.

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