Saturday, 12 July 2014

The man whose goals for Uruguay are really worth celebrating

The great man was talking passionately and movingly the other day about his goals for Uruguay.  And no, I don’t mean Luis Suarez.
The now former Liverpool striker may be an extravagantly gifted footballer, but by no stretch of the imagination could he be called a great man.
The description is entirely appropriate, however, for the president of his country, Jose Mujica. Or Pepe, as he is unaccountably known to his friends – who seem to include most of Uruguay’s 3.4million people.
It’s hard to think of any president of any country who is easier to like than Pepe Mujica. Largely because he is so, well, un-presidential.
No White House, Kremlin or Elysee Palace for 79-year-old Pepe. When he took office in 2010 he declined the option of moving into the presidential mansion, where a staff of 42 were ready to wait on him.
Instead he remains in the run-down house in O’Higgins Road, on the outskirts of Montevideo, where he and his wife have lived for years, growing chrysanthemums to sell in the local market.
His personal security force apparently consists of two plain-clothes officers parked on the road outside.
His own transport is not a limo with police outriders – and certainly no Air Force One.
Giving a lead, perhaps, to his fellow South American, Pope Francis, he still drives around in a battered old VW Beetle.
Unlike most leaders, of whatever political hue, this is a man who practises what he preaches. And he believes that for democracy to work, politicians should be taken down a notch.
“We have done everything possible to make the presidency less venerated,” he says.
Pictured at high-level meetings, scruffy, tieless, in old sandals, he looks every inch the peasant among office-workers.
His official presidential salary of about £4,600 a month would seem like small change to Luis Suarez. But Pepe gives 90 per cent of it away to charity.
“I have a way of life that I don’t change just because I am a president,” he says. “I earn more than I need, even if it’s not enough for others.
“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”
There is something of Mahatma Gandhi about this man.
He hasn’t had to resist the rule of a foreign empire, as Gandhi did, but he did spent 14 years in prison – a decade of it in solitary confinement – for resistance to a previous government.
The country he now heads is officially one of the least corrupt in the world, which hardly fits the Latin American stereotype. The gap between rich and poor is also unusually small.
So what about those goals?
“My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay, to help the most vulnerable and to leave behind a political way of thinking that will be passed on.”
Better and more honourable goals than any scored by Suarez.

The wisdom of Pepe Mujica

·        We have sacrificed the old immaterial gods, and now we are occupying the temple of the Market God. He organises our economy, our politics, our habits, our lives and gives us the appearance of happiness. It seems we have been born only to consume and to consume.
·        Businesses just want to increase their profits – it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce.

·        I’m not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress.
·        If we lived within our means, the 7billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction. But we think as people and countries, not as a species.


Big farmer versus the bees

This being summer, shouldn’t we be basking in the pleasant hum of bees? I’m sure that’s how summer used to be.
Comparing present experience with nostalgic memory may not be very good science. But it still leaves me wondering where all the bees have gone.
And if the dire reports of their worldwide disappearance are anywhere near accurate, we could end up missing a lot more than summer’s sweet droning sound.
Like most of our food supply, for instance.
It was good news last year that the EU banned the use of pesticides linked to what amounts to bee genocide.
And good news last week that Britain turned down an “emergency appeal” from manufacturers Syngenta to overturn that ban.
The EU ruling only has another year to run, though.
It’s vital that the scientists come up with a definitive answer by next year on whether neonicotinoids are indeed responsible for wiping out bees. In which case they must be banned forever.
Unhappily, it’s the big manufacturer that has all the cash to spend on research, and on lobbying politicians. As ever.

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