Tags: mujica | radical | guerrilla | president

Radical Leftist Ex-Guerilla Now Uruguay's President

Monday, 01 March 2010 08:50 PM

MONTEVIDEO — Jose Mujica, who decades ago served time in prison for taking up arms against Uruguay's "bourgeois state," was sworn in Monday as his country's new president.

The former radical leftist guerrilla fighter is now a mellower but still-feisty senior citizen who grows flowers at his ranch and calls himself a pan-theist.

Colorful and charismatic in contrast to respected outgoing fellow leftist president Tabare Vazquez, Mujica is known for his willingness for dialogue.

A straight talker, Mujica has a reputation for being able to win over even political foes and business interests.

Before Monday's swearing-in ceremony, Mujica joked to reporters that "today is a little bit of heaven, but there will be plenty of purgatory tomorrow."

His inauguration was attended by top-level guests, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Spain's Crown Prince Felipe.

"We genuinely want to achieve an end to poverty" and "for people to have jobs," Mujica said after his inauguration, adding: "None of that can be achieved in this country just by making noise."

"We are calling for transformation, and genuine progress," he said, after riding to Independence Plaza with Vice President Danilo Astori in a Chinese-made car outfitted by Uruguayan mechanics with an electric motor.

The pair walked the last few blocks to the swearing in together, delighting thousands who cheered "Let's go, Pepe (nickname for Jose), Pepe's with the people."

Clinton promised closer bilateral ties.

"It's the second time (I am here) to see the peaceful transfer of power and to have visited both the president (Vazquez), the president-elect (Mujica) and pledged strong partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest. We are going to continue to work close together," Clinton said.

Also on hand to witness the ceremony were regional counterparts Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales also`took part along with his Ecuadoran counterpart Rafael Correa, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Alvaro Colom of Guatemala.

Mujica has become the second former Latin American rebel to be elected president recently, after Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, an ex-Sandinista.

He has said he models himself on popular Brazilian president Lula, a left-leaning former labor activist who is known for a centrist approach.

The new Uruguay president was co-founder of the radical leftist Tupamaros movement back in the 1960s, and when jailed took part in a huge prison break.

But the more mature Mujica is largely a product of his years as a lawmaker which he says taught him to "embrace serpents" if necessary to get a deal done.

The ex-rebel chose pragmatic former finance minister, Danilo Astori, as his running mate and the pair pledged to continue the economic policies of Vazquez.

Mujica's wife, Lucia Topolansky, also a former rebel and now a senator, will be third in line to the presidency due to her legislative post.

Mujica has said he will not move to the presidential palace, instead choosing to stay at his small ranch in Rincon del Cerro.

He also is putting most of his salary into a fund for homeless Uruguayans.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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Monday, 01 March 2010 08:50 PM
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