Here’s a challenge. I do not make a habit of following Uruguayan politics. But I might now. Normally our view of South American political life is the tone deafness that comes from repeated bawlings from either Hugo Chavez in the north (got to love him, though, don’t you?) or Mrs de Kirchner in the south. But Uruguay has Jose Alberto Mujica Cordano, a leftist ex-guerrilla fighter who lives with his missus on a farm outside Montevideo and who has led Uruguay since 2009. I have never heard of him before today, and actually do not know anyone who might know of him. After 3 years in office, his popularity rating has just slipped below 50% because he is sticking to his guns on abortion rights for women (in a predominantly Catholic country) and is trying to legalise cannabis. Oops.

But we should listen to him. Because he is saying things and acting in some curious ways that indicates that, whatever else we might think of leftist ex-guerrillas who lead small South American countries (and there is a literature on this, apparently), he has figured out something enormously important, and acted on it. According to the BBC he is the world’s poorest president. And not because he leads the world’s poorest country (in fact the people who lead the poorest countries seem to hang onto their limos a little longer), but because he has given most of his income away, moved out onto the land, lived like many of his countrymen, farms flowers with his wife, and is guarded by a couple of cops and a three-legged dog (called Manuela). You couldn’t make this up.

But this is not the interesting part. His income (after charitable donations but before tax) is just £485 a month. 90% of his income is given away, which puts a slightly different complexion on the word “tithing”. His wealth is mostly tied up in his house, small farm and a Volkswagen Beetle that he uses to get to work.

For himself he says “I’ve lived like this most of my life…I can live well with what I have”. More challenge!

I’m called ‘the poorest president’, but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more. This is a matter of freedom. If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself….I may seem a mad and eccentric old man. But this is a free choice.

Politically, however, he is what you would expect from such a man:

But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left? Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet….(we have a ) blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world.

I spoke to a consultant visiting our school this week about the work of Wendell Berry, whom he found “twee” and “unrealistic”, making arguments that would always lose. Well, I am with Berry, and with Snr Mujica. In the kingdom of God, we have to be careful about which arguments will win in the long run.

Long ago, in a famous letter to the Rev James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote that their new state is secure when small farmers and landowners are at its heart, where everybody had a little bit of land to work and call his own.  Maybe it is the deep call of the land, the love of it, that is inspiring Snr Mujica. I don’t know. Those of us who do not have “land” or any connection to it maybe feel that love of country is harder to “place” in our thinking. Someone with 100 acres knows what they love.

None of us would say, I don’t think, that we had a “blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption” but we go along with it as if it were true. What should we teach our children from this?

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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