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Reblog/reaction: No, you can’t have your own president Mujica – Medium

Reblogging a brilliant piece by Medium contributor “rabble” who covers politics and history, often for Uruguay. With our take on it, and a whole bunch of on-the-ground observation by us, added here in our Uruguay Expat Life post.

No, you can’t have your own president Mujica. — Medium.

So why can’t there be more leaders like Mujica. Well it’s complicated. He’s a reflection of the politics and country which elected him…

To explain why Mujica got elected, how he was able to govern and reshape Uruguay we need a tiny bit of a history lesson.

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This is such a great counter-piece to all the excesses of Hipster-Uruguay articles that both Uruguayans and most expats/immigrants here are getting sick and tired of seeing. (Something we’ve skewered right here before.) We do admire Mujica, though some of our neighbors in both the Uruguayan and the Anglophone expat communities dislike, or even despise him. We understand why they do and do not demonize them for it – they have points that make sense. We at Uruguay Expat Life admire that Uruguay President José Mujica mostly “walks the talk” of taking only a typical Uruguayan salary rather than the full Presidential salary. While also aware of the criticism that his wife, Senator Lucía Topolansky, the most powerful legislator and leader of the Senate, still takes her full quite-substantial salary, so that the Mujica-Topolansky family is by no means “poor”.

We  respect that one of our acquaintances, whom we met in person after first connecting via social media and comments from this site, absolutely is enraged about Mujica that “He never finished his sentence.” We’re aware that the Mujica myth is that he was imprisoned by the dictatorship, when the facts are, he was imprisoned as a criminal and domestic terrorist before the dictatorship – and that some say that without the violence of his Tupamaros group, there might never have been a dictatorship at all. We don’t quite agree with that last point. There were many other factors also in play, including the Nixon/Ford-Kissinger and later Reagan Administration’s Operation Condor, overthrowing or supporting the overthrowing of governments throughout this continent. But the violence of the Tupamaros gave those forces more than enough excuse to act when they did.

We have friends who are Frente Amplio, of many different factions of it. Friends who are Colorados about to vote for Pedro Bordaberry, son of the dictator, friends who are Blancos about to vote for the Partido Nacional surprise candidate Luís Lacalle Pou, even friends and neighbors who are Partido Independiente, the tiny Independent Party that  claim they are now the real medium between the two blocks – all the FA as one leftist side vs the combined now-rightist Colorados with traditional-right Blancos. Though even its Presidential candidate, Pablo Mieres, has admitted he has no chance of winning the presidency, he recently said in La República that the October election is really the election of the parliament. Thus by voting his list, perhaps some PI representation and that via media voice returns for the next 5 years – with those legislators in a position to be the swing votes in a divided congress.

Partially quoting (fair use excerpt) reporter Marcelo Márquez’ interview in La República, where Mieres makes that point:

La elección de octubre es una elección parlamentaria. La elección presidencial se pospone para noviembre y ya tiene finalistas con nombre y apellido. Es una gran oportunidad para nosotros, porque lo que la gente va a estar definiendo en octubre es quiénes integran el Parlamento y ahí nos tenemos mucha fe.

La gente seguramente nos va a dar mucho crédito para tener un Parlamento independiente que controle gane quien gane, y que también ayude para generar puentes. El PI es el único puente entre los dos bloques y eso es necesario, tenemos que buscar articulaciones, diálogos, entendimientos.

We at Uruguay Expat Life, Mark Mercer and Lisa Marie Mercer, don’t demonize. We don’t polarize. We try to avoid the simplistic sloganeering, in both countries.  We left much of that behind in the dysfunction of USA politics (where we still vote and where neither of us was ever a “party line” voter there.) We can’t vote here, but we are legally immigrants here in the residential process with a pathway to citizenship – one that might happen in time for us to vote 5 years from now in the next election. As residents and taxpayers here (via VAT and at times, actual Uruguay jobs with actual Uruguayan income tax), we have a say even if we don’t have a vote, because we are part of this country, we are integrating into society in this country, we do not hold ourselves apart as “expats” as our primary identity. We’ve come to see the good and bad here, and at least some of the many sides (not “both” sides) of Uruguayan politics – as part of our hoping to be informed and voting ciudadanos uruguayos by the 2019 election (which would require citizenship by 2016 – you must wait 3 years post-naturalization to vote or serve on juries.) So we pay attention. Mujica isn’t a demon, but he’s not an angel either. Many FA programs here really helped the country. Others hurt, at least in how they were managed or mismanaged.

So maybe even Uruguay shouldn’t get another Mujica. Of course, it can’t – there is no re-election of presidents here – the President’s only job is to be President, not to run for it again. Presidents are even barred from actively campaigning for the next President. We’d be shocked, shocked, to find any of that happening here. Of course, Mujica is running for Senate, and he can campaign for that, so there are classic revolutionary-style low-tech non-fancy-art banners around with his smiling face painted on it in broad strokes. At the top of his list is of course, the Vásquez-Sendic ticket, but he can’t promote them.

But we do respect Mujica the man and especially the way he went from being a man of violence in the name of equality and justice, to a man of peace building coalitions and consensus – at least within the now-dominant Frente Amplio (Broad Front). As the linked commentary from Medium’s contributor explains, some of that is Mujica’s own style, but much of that is also because of Uruguay’s rather unique history, long before Mujica and his predecessor (and perhaps successor) in the Frente Amplio, Tabaré Vásquez, came to power.

Some of that is from the rather interesting mix of proportional and direct voting here – you do not vote for a candidate, you vote for a list. Below the top two candidates on the Frente Amplio List, the “formula” of Presidential candidate and VP, all 11 parties (depending on how you count parties and sub-parties) in the Frente Amplio are competing with each other. In the current election, some of them have formed joint lists, such as Asamblea Uruguaya and Frente Liber Seregni, but those are competing with Mujica’s own MPP Movimiento Participacion Popular list, on which he is a candidate for Senate.

Unless you have all of those unique historical, constitutional, cultural, and yes, personality factors in place, you are not going to get a “Mujica”. Unless you look long and hard at the entire history of this man’s life and actions, and at the good and bad that has happened in Uruguay under his stewardship as President and party leader of the FA, you can’t really even say if you should want your own “Mujica”.

Uruguay does have a functioning, and representative, constitutional democracy in this republic, La República Oriental del Uruguay. But not necessarily what you think it has, if you only read the recent-years Hipster Uruguay press coverage. Bravo “rabble” for breaking through the hype and for a solid piece on how it works here, a very accessible explanation all us English speakers not originally from here. We hope that our reblogging and reaction to it, with the expansion, our context and perspectives, and added links, further helps explain to the English-speaking world more about this unique and quite wonderful country, without the hype.

Comments? Be sure to drop a comment, note, or share of the original Medium piece, or on that article itself. You can comment right here below our article using your Disqus profile or any of your social media IDs. Want to kick it around more? Start or join an existing post thread in our forum, the Uruguay Expat Life Community on the Google social platform. Anyone with any kind of Google account (Gmail, Android, Chrome, YouTube, Picasa) is only a click or two away from being a member.

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Mark Mercer

Site co-owner Mark Mercer. AKA Marcos Cristoforo Mercer, AKA the Fuzzy Wanderer. Expat from USA living in Uruguay as of mid-2012, after "test-driving" it for a few months in 2011 and early 2012. Married to Lisamaria, AKA well-known travel and fitness writer Lisa Marie Mercer. Follow Mark on Twitter @mcmxs and his many other sites, which you can find at I write and engage about many of my other interests, on Google+ at

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