Chrysanthemums for Colombia?


In a story published last week, the AP made sure President of Uruguay José ‘Pepe’ Mujica’s tirade got the color it deserved when it went to press.

From the AP’s story

War! Imperialism! Tyranny! The Business suit!

In a full throttle attack on ties and suits, Uruguay’s President went off on an angry tirade at the Economic Congress for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) held last week. Sitting before Latin America’s leaders, his rhetoric, though a bit grumpy, was at least very honest.

After the business suit, President Mujica is honest about other things he likes and doesn’t like: he doesn’t like the wasteful consumption patterns found in modern cities. He refuses to live in the Presidential Palace in Montevideo, resorting instead to a small farm outside of the city, where he farms Chrysanthemum flowers. Why? It’s what he likes. He drives an old sky blue Volkswagen Beetle on weekends, and gives away about 90% of his salary to charity.

After peeling back his eccentric lifestyle and poetic rhetoric though, Uruguay’s President is promoting concrete progressive social reform at home – like legalizing cannabis consumption – and abroad, like his offer to participate in a peace process between the Colombian government and its second largest guerrilla faction: the ELN.

From an interview with Al Jazeera

“Colombia has one of the strongest militaries in Latin America, with notorious backing from the United States, which means interference in the region. From afar it seems like a war without a solution, and like a long sacrifice for the country. So when a President appears who supports a path to peace, I think that deserves support. Because there’s a lot of pain, and if they try to settle the scores, war will never end.”

So far, it’s unclear to what extent Colombia is interested in having President Mujica’s voice at the negotiating table. But for the leader of one of Latin America’s least corrupt, least violent societies, and with a personal history as an urban guerrilla, having been shot, jailed and sentenced by military tribunal to more than a decade of prison with solitary confinement sprinkled in, his experience – and maybe even his views – might be worth hearing about.

photo source: NA