I Do Not Need Much to Live





By Mick Krever and Claire Calzonetti, CNN

Jose Mujica is often referred to as the world’s “poorest” president.

“I'm not a poor president,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour through an interpreter on Monday. “Poor are the people who need a lot – Seneca said that. I am an austere president.”

He donates 97% of his salary, drives a 1987 Volkwagen Beetle – the original “peoples’ car” – and sells flowers with his wife at their home.

Mujica, a former Marxist guerrilla, lives in the same modest Montevideo house he always has, forgoing the presidential palace.

“I do not need much to live. I live in the same way I used to live when I wasn’t a president and in the same neighborhood, in my same house, and in the same way. And I am a republican” – small ‘r.’

“I live like the majority in my country lives. It was a majority who voted for me. And that's why I identify with them. Morally, I do not have the right to live like a minority in my country.”

“A lot of people like a lot of money. They shouldn't go into politics. That's my way of seeing it. I am not improvising. I don't do marketing. This is my philosophy.”

President Mujica met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House Monday. What is it like for a former Marxist guerrilla to enter the White House, that most potent of Western’s symbols?

“I cannot deny reality,” he told Amanpour. “I don't know whether I like this planet or not, but I have to accept it.”

There is not just one “United States,” he said. Yes, the country wields tremendous – “scary” – influence in Latin America, and the relationship between the region and America has a troubled history full of attempted coups and CIA operatives.

“However,” he said, “there's also a big debate in the States. There's human progress. There's a technological and scientific development that helps the whole of humanity. So we cannot just put everything in one bag and just say one word to describe the U.S.”

“I know that the U.S. is a bit of a global policeman, but I also recognize something really positive about the U.S. which has helped humanity.”

And lest Presidents Mujica and Obama feel at a loss for conversation topics, Mujica’s austerity is far from the only remarkable thing about him.

Uruguay is the first country to fully legalize the marijuana trade, earning it both praise and criticism from all over the world.

“We are regularizing a clandestine market that we want to legalize,” he said. “We are not expanding addiction. We are trying to resolve the problem in time for people who go into this addiction, which, like any other addiction, is a bad thing.”

Many people even in his country, he told Amanpour, do not yet fully understand the policy.

“It is a measure against trafficking, drug dealing. We are trying to snatch the market away from them, because it's 80 years now that we are repressing drug use.”

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