Jose “Pepe” Mujica, (74) who decades ago served time in prison for taking up arms against Uruguay's bourgeois state was sworn in Monday as the country's new president. In his main speech he called for dialogue and regional integration.
The former Tupamaro guerrilla leader, a straight talker with a kind of “magic message” that captures voters gave an inauguration speech, --before the Uruguayan Parliament and foreign dignitaries--, packed very much with his typical short sharp messages basically the opposite to what he preached and practiced forty years ago.
At that time the Tupamaros rallying calls were “Fatherland for all, or fatherland for none”, “the worst, the best”, this is an “all or nothing” adventure, however in his speech a wiser spirit emerged openly: “fatherland for all, with all of us, with every Uruguayan in”; “the worst, the best, simply leads to defeat” and “all or nothing is stupid, it achieves nothing” he stated repeatedly. And please “no hate”, it leads nowhere.
Colourful and charismatic in contrast to respected outgoing fellow left-wing president Tabare Vazquez, Mujica is known for his willingness for dialogue and reaching agreements, or at least working understandings. And in that line he reiterated calls to the opposition to join and support his government in long term policies and making Uruguay a better country for its people.
“The political system will have to be sincere and brave. Education, energy and security are state policies which we must protect. For the rest we should let politics advance. Our program can be resumed in a couple of words, ‘more of the same’”, he said.
Solemn and contrary to his style of speaking without notes, before Parliament he read the carefully worded speech but also included some of his down to earth descriptions: today is a little bit of heaven, open skies but there will be plenty of purgatory tomorrow.
His inauguration was attended by top-level guests, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Spain's Crown Prince Felipe and several South American presidents, Lula da Silva form Brazil; Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez; Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe; Ecuador’s Rafael Correa; Bolivia’s Evo Morales; Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo and in the afternoon ceremonies, Cristina Kirchner from Argentina.
Regarding regional integration and “a little room” called Mercosur in that bigger hotel he said “how much love and how much annoyance”, but this is not the moment to talk “about bedroom problems”.
However he immediately fired his political commitment to Mercosur, “it’s until death depart us and we expect a reciprocal attitude”.
We genuinely want to achieve an end to poverty and for people to have jobs, Mujica said, but adding: None of that can be achieved in this country just by making noise.
He also emphasized that to distribute, first wealth must be generated, and wealth needs investors, people willing to invest in Uruguay and for this “we need clear rules of the game, and we need to protect them”.
Mujica said his government will be committed to education and knowledge (the only real tool to transform a country and create wealth), and social services, but this will mean “cutting from other sectors of the budget, having to say no, several times, it won’t be easy”.
The new president also admitted that since the left wing coalition took office for the first time in 2005 “we’ve learnt that resources are limited and social demands unlimited; that budgets must be balanced; that macro-economics indexes must be respected; that promising distribution with nothing to share is nonsense, and that our people have also fallen to temptations of corruption”.
We are calling for transformation, and genuine progress, he said, after riding to Independence Plaza for the final ceremony with Vice President Danilo Astori in a Chinese-made car outfitted by Uruguayan mechanics with an electric motor.
In the Independence Plaza, at the foot of Uruguay’s national hero equestrian statue, Jose Artigas, in an open air ceremony Mujica was handed the presidential sash by outgoing president Tabare Vazquez. Following that his cabinet was named and officially presented to the public packed in the square and adjoining streets.
Mujica was one of the founders of the Uruguayan urban guerrilla movement in the sixties but years in jail and later as a lawmaker turned the fiery fighter into a pragmatic conciliating politician. He lives with his wife in a modest farm a few kilometres from downtown Montevideo where he plants flowers and vegetables.
He lives with his wife Senator Lucia Topolansky, a fellow guerrilla who as president of the General Assembly (Lower House plus Senate) took his oath to respect and make respect the Uruguayan constitution.
In a recent meeting with Argentine and Uruguayan business leaders Mujica defined himself as a “wild cat that has turned a vegetarian”. Maybe, he has created great expectations at both ends, the poor and indigent and the investors attracted by his pledge of clear rules and a proven administrator, his vice president and former Economy minister Astori.
His challenge will be to meet those double expectations on time but with a global economy that won’t be as bountiful as during four of the five years of his predecessor Tabare Vazquez.