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Uruguay's President Jose Mujica: No Palace, No Motorcade, No Frills

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If anyone could claim to be leading by example in an age of austerity, it is Jose Mujica, Uruguay's president, who has forsworn a state palace in favor of a farmhouse, donates the vast bulk of his salary to social projects, flies economy class and drives an old Volkswagen Beetle.

But the former guerrilla fighter is clearly disgruntled by those who tag him "the world's poorest president" and - much as he would like others to adopt a more sober lifestyle - the 78-year-old has been in politics long enough to recognize the folly of claiming to be a model for anyone.

"If I asked people to live as I live, they would kill me," Mujica said during an interview in his small but cozy one-bedroom home set amid chrysanthemum fields outside Montevideo.

The president is a former member of the Tupamaros guerrilla group, which was notorious in the early 1970s for bank robberies, kidnappings and distributing stolen food and money among the poor. He was shot by police six times and spent 14 years in a military prison, much of it in dungeon-like conditions.

Since becoming leader of Uruguay in 2010, however, he has won plaudits worldwide for living within his means, decrying excessive consumption and pushing ahead with policies on same-sex marriage, abortion and cannabis legalization that have reaffirmed Uruguay as the most socially liberal country in Latin America.     


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