Uruguay’s Mujica decries deep-seated inequality in LatAm

By Santiago Carbone

Montevideo, Jul 13 (EFE).- Complicated sums up how Uruguayan former President Jose Mujica sees Latin America, a region where the dominant social and economic tendencies “accentuate inequality.”

“It has fundamental problems. It’s the worst continent at distributing (wealth). It didn’t start today. It’s a historical inheritance,” Mujica told Efe during an interview at the modest farm near Montevideo where he lives with his wife, former Vice President Lucia Topolansky.

Now 87, Jose “Pepe” Mujica governed Uruguay from 2010-2015, while Topolansky served as vice president under his successor, the late Tabare Vazquez.

Though Uruguay is a small nation of barely 3.5 million people and often overshadowed by neighbors Brazil and Argentina, President Mujica captured the world’s imagination.

The one-time leftist guerrilla who spent 12 years behind bars during Uruguay’s 1972-1985 military regime donated 90 percent of his salary to charity and declined to live in the presidential mansion.

Instead, he remained on the farm and drove himself into Montevideo every day in his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.

Another former rebel, Gustavo Petro, is to be inaugurated Aug. 7 as president of Colombia after winning a historic victory in last month’s runoff.

“Peace. In Colombia the first problem is peace,” Mujica said when asked about the challenges Petro will face in trying to govern a country with “culture of great violence.”

Recently, the Truth Commission established by the November 2016 peace accords between the Colombian government and the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia reported that some 470,000 people died in decades of conflict involving guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and the security forces.

Despite the similarities in their backgrounds, Mujica stressed the differences between himself and the 62-year-old Petro.

“He is younger. He’s an economist and I am a peasant,” the Uruguayan said of the Colombian. “He belongs to the digital civilization, I don’t.”

Turning to Brazil, which is holding presidential elections in October, Mujica said that the candidacy of his friend Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva “is going very well.”

“He will never stop being a union leader, in other words, a problem-solver, and perhaps that can serve Brazil well in the sense of turning down the decibels a little regarding internal confrontation,” Mujica said of the former auto worker seeking to return to the office he held in 2003-2011.

The elder statesman was less sanguine about the situation in deeply polarized Argentina, in the grip of an “inflationary spiral that is difficult to manage with a program of the right, with a program of the center or with a program of the left.”

Observing that the crisis helped create friction between President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Fernandez (no relation), a former two-term head of state, Mujica urged the pair “to love each other a little more.” EFE scr/dr

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