Mujica: “Politics Hasn’t Resolved the People’s Needs”

In the midst of a crisis of representation and disenchantment with politics in Latin America, former Uruguay president José Mujica analyzes the regional context and the symptoms that have led to social outbursts.

Former Uruguayan President José Mujica
September 13, 2021 | 01:28 PM

In an interview with Bloomberg Línea, former Uruguay president and political leader José Mujica referred to the “crisis of democracy”, the hopelessness of young people, the peace process in Colombia that “has been cut off” and the legacy he wants to leave behind.

Away from social media (he has none), cell phones, video calls and noise, Mujica, 86 years old, prefers to do the interview on the landline phone that rings in the middle of the tranquility of his farm located in a rural area of Montevideo. From there he sharply analyzes the bifurcations of history, politics and economics that have led Latin America into a labyrinth from which it has not yet emerged and which he has witnessed as a political leader.

Due to the current economic crisis in the region and the recent social outbursts in countries such as Chile and Colombia, Mujica considers that politics has not been up to “the people’s needs” who in turn are “far from resigning themselves to stagnation” caused by the poverty and inequality that plagues Latin America in the midst of “democratic crisis”.

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There is a labor crisis and people are far from resigning themselves to stagnation in poverty because they are subjected to a bombardment that culturally causes confusion between ‘being’ and ‘having’. What does not exist today is resignation and this ends in sometimes chaotic, sometimes desperate mobilizations.

Mujica looks at young people and regrets that in the current panorama “they have nothing that can make them fall in love, nothing that can shake them”, although he emphasizes that “it is not their fault”, since there is “a change of era that doesn’t provide answers”.

“Younger generations have no hope; to move, when you are young, you have to believe in something, this youth does not have many things to believe in. And it is not their fault, it is the older generation’s fault for not building that hope”.

LatAm’s labyrinth

Mujica, also referred to as the “poorest president in the world” during his governance (2010-2015) due to the simplicity of his lifestyle and philosophy, believes that Latin Americans “are the children of feudal nations”.

“From the beginning they went out to distribute resources, mainly land, with a feudal criterion, both in Germany and Portugal the bourgeois revolution had failed repeatedly, our independence arose at a time when the world market had already been organized; it is no coincidence that almost all the major ports of Latin America gave rise to a country. Why? Because the economic relationship outward and with Europe was much more important than it was among us, “he questioned.

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“Our head was always thinking about other places, never about us. And I think we have been somewhat imprisoned by that reality (...). We think beyond the ocean, we believe that Paris, London or New York are more important than our dear neighbors, and even our own culture also says so. We are Latin Americans by birth, but automatically it would seem that we are not”, he added.

The democratic crisis

“There is a strong democratic crisis because it is moving in personal lurches and it is not monitored by strong collective currents, structured parties, that are able to see beyond the will of some charismatic figures”, said the Uruguayan president regarding the turn towards populism and nationalism in America.

These “caudillos” tend to “replace the democratic game” and this “is damaging us in the long run. We are going from lurch to lurch without a medium-term political succession that would allow us to move forward, we are permanently changing and changing for the worse”, he pointed out.

“There is political impotence, there is a desire to replace methodically built parties, collective currents, with figures, and history is not changed by great caudillos. The caudillos today, if they do not have a gigantic single line of disciplined people to accompany them, are a shot in the air.”


In this sense, he advocated for “believing in the collective”, which “may be represented in some”, since “one does not replace a mass of committed and militant people”. “I believe that the fault we have is of a political nature”, he summarized.

Gaps are widening

The pandemic, according to Mujica, brought to light the “reality” of a continent that “was already the most unjust on the planet in terms of wealth distribution” and he regrets that in the current scenario this characteristic will be accentuated “because there are too many people who have fallen by the wayside”.

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Added to this dilemma is the fact that Latin America “has trans nationalized all branches of the economy”, from trade to services. Plus, there has been “a very broad technological evolution” that “tends to widen the gap in the possession of knowledge in favor of the developed world”.

“Latin America has the complex challenge of being able to train young people, with tertiary education, in a world that is moving at a tremendous speed”, explained the Uruguayan political leader.

The Colombian peace process “has been cut off”

The leader of the Uruguayan Popular Participation Movement (MPP) also mentioned the peace agreement signed in 2016 between the Colombian government and the former Farc guerrilla, which now turned into a political party after more than half a century of conflict.

According to the former president, “the peace process was also an opportunity to fight thoroughly in a productive Colombia” with “the multitude of natural resources that this wonderful country has to offer”.

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“But that violent culture persists, which resulted in having the project cut off” because “there is a part of society used to living in tension, in war, which means that Colombia continues the same lifestyle from which it has not been able to get out of in a long time”.

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He questioned the “very strong crisis of attitude and culture”, at the same time he pointed out that there are still “many landless men” and many places where the State practically has no presence, and if it does, it is very weak”.

Argentines moving into Uruguay

In recent days, the Uruguayan President, Luis Lacalle Pou, stated that the country “needs people to enlarge the domestic market and here we can think in long term”, which was a clear call to investors from countries such as Argentina.

“We are thinking of allowing foreign property owners who are vaccinated to enter the country in the spring. By the end of spring, however, all foreigners who are fully immunized will potentially be able to visit Uruguay”, he pointed out.

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Asked about this, Mujica said that the flow of capital from Argentina to Uruguay has “a tradition. Argentines who come to Uruguay want to buy an apartment, set up a house, Uruguay is a nice country to live in, but surely it does not have the horizon of speculative hope and the dimensions that Argentina may have. They can sleep here, but they will keep their business there”.

The poor distribution of wealth

The Uruguayan political leader stated that “in the last 30 years the world economy grew enormously while sacrificing an important part of the lower middle classes, which have remained frozen in place. The economy grew remarkably, but it was a very concentrated growth. Every two or three days there is a new billionaire”.

“The world has shown that in the post-war period, particularly in Europe, the economy can grow, but remembering a fiscal progressivity that basically states that those who have more have to pay more. This is a form of redistribution of wealth in society.”

“I do not want to say that the economy does not grow, the economy grows, but also the distribution grows, this made possible what has been called the welfare state. This as a fiscal idea was maintained until 85, then it began to decline. What is called neoliberalism is nothing more than the crudest old liberalism prior to the war of 14. It means a brutal concentration around capital resources with terrible distribution”.

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Reflections on capitalism and consumption

Mujica also criticized that “subliminal culture generated by the market, which needs everyone to be a potential desperate buyer who is always building debt to continue paying”, and thinks that “life is about paying installments”.

“Accumulation is a culture generated for the market, by the market and with the market,” he pointed out when referring to human happiness, which he defined as “a philosophical question.”

In today’s world, it is not as important if “people are more or less happy, it is best if people confuse happiness with having and do not realize that what they are losing is their life and that their life is suddenly lost by sacrificing the important things: friendship, the affection of a partner, the care of children, friends. Anyhow, these are philosophical questions that do not interest the market”.

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Asked about capitalism, he considered that, although it had “the great ability to use science to multiply productivity and generate formidable foundations of this civilization”, it is also “responsible for a brutal situation of inequality in the world”.

“We owe capitalism a lot, and it has had some positive impact, for example, we are able to live 40 more years, but since capitalism has been drowning for profit, it has no limit, and it keeps pushing and pushing. In this way, it has taken life and the planet’s resources to the limit of what they can resist. It is a cataclysm son of success”, he affirmed.

“This is curious, but like so many human things, it had a positive side and there is another dangerously negative side, because politics for profit is not necessarily rational,” he said.

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I believe that there are a lot of useless expenses, we spend three million dollars per minute in military budgets in the world and then we say that there are no resources to end poverty, no, no, no, there are resources, the problem is how we are throwing them away.

The climate dilemma

“Thirty years ago, scientists in Kyoto told us what was happening, why it was happening and what had to be done, and thirty years have passed and what we have done as humanity is little, the environmental crisis and especially the climate crisis is generated by human activity, and only human activity can correct it,” he said.

“This issue will be latent, not for me who am an old man, but for those of 30 and 40 years,” said Mujica, who called for cooperation because this is “of a global nature, it cannot be solved by one country alone.

“There has to be agreements of a global nature and we are very far from that. Otherwise, it is very likely that humanity will have to pay at an expensive cost. Primitive man made many disasters, but was unaware; contemporary man is making disasters, and is conscious of it. That is why he is twice as responsible for what is going to happen,” he said.

“We have set up a lying civilization because if every citizen of the world, in a world that is going to have 7,000 million, 8,000 million or 9,000 million inhabitants, thinks that he can live as the North Americans, the Europeans live, throwing away as much garbage, we would need three planets”, he analyzed.

His legacy and message to young people

“I don’t know any lamb that was saved by bleating, (I would tell them) that the world we can have is the one we can fight for, that everything depends on the organized human will, and on the capacity we show to change this world, but let’s not expect it to be in singular, we have to build collectively. Life is beautiful, despite all the hardships. Whoever does not have a life purpose should not worry, he will spend his life buying happiness in monthly installments”, he mentioned.

“It is beautiful to live with a purpose that gives meaning, that eternal question of humans ..., what is the meaning of life, the meaning of life is what our will makes it to be, so as we cannot escape death and we have inherited something very big called civilization from those who came before us, I feel it is a duty to try to contribute to leave a world a little better than the one in which we were born, that gives purpose to our life. The other option is to live like a crab or like a lettuce that lives because it was born, nature gave us a conscience to be happy and to be anxious, that is what it means to live, to live with desire, with commitment”.