After his inauguration on Monday as Uruguay’s 52nd president, José ‘Pepe’ Mujica has served his first full day as head of state. The 74-year-old ex-guerrilla leader took office yesterday in Montevideo, and the 13 members of his new cabinet were sworn in today.
Mujica, the country’s second consecutive president from the left-wing party Frente Amplio, has promised to work towards integration and social progress. Speaking at an international press conference on Sunday, Mujica said that he wants to, “eliminate destitution in the country, lower poverty by 50% and massively stimulate education and culture”.
However, despite emphasising the need for social change, Mujica stated in his inaugural speech that his first aim was to support the economy, saying “we need investors” and that “if we don’t increase our wealth, everything else is blah blah blah”.
In terms of foreign policy, he stressed his commitment to working with other Latin American countries, and bi-lateral summits have been arranged with the leaders of Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela. Moreover, he has stated that Uruguay is wedded to the South American economic union Mercosur “til death do us part”.
Mujica has also stressed his commitment to working with the opposition and reaching bi-partisan agreements, saying “all or nothing is stupid, it achieves nothing”. Notably, he distanced himself from his earlier, more radical stance as a left-wing guerrilla, describing himself in a meeting between Argentine and Uruguayan business leaders as a “wild cat that has turned vegetarian”.
In the 1960s Mujica became a founding member of the left-wing guerrilla movement Tupamaro and following his radical activism he spent 15 years of his life in jail. After the return of democracy to Uruguay in 1985, he was released and between 2005 and 2008 he served as Uruguay’s minister for livestock, agriculture and fishing. Mujica won the country’s second round of presidential elections in November 2009 with 52% of the votes.
Environmental issues were high on the new president’s agenda and as symbol to mark his commitment to solving energy problems in Uruguay, he made his journey from the legislative palace to Plaza Independencia in an electric car.