The World's Most Humble President Just Stopped by the White House to Lecture Barack Obama

The World's Most Humble President Just Stopped by the White House to Lecture Barack Obama

The news: President Barack Obama may have earned a reputation as a "too cool for school" politician, but he has serious competition for the "chillest president in the world."

Meet José "Pepe" Mujica, the 78-year-old president of Uruguay. A former revolutionary guerrilla fighter, Mujica has gained a reputation as the "world's poorest president." He gives away 90% of his $12,000-a-month salary to charity, lives in a one bedroom house where he grows chrysanthemums and drives his own Volkswagen beetle to work.

And on Monday's visit to the White House, Mujica challenged Obama's views on tobacco, demonstrating how his small South American nation of 3.3 million people is one-upping America in terms of drug policy.

"Mr. President, who is speaking is an old smoker," Mujica said through an interpreter. "But in the world, per year, eight million people are dying from smoking. And that is more than World War I, World War II. It's murder."

The issue: Last week, Uruguay became the first country to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. But while Mujica has supported pot legalization, he has serious beef with cigarettes — and especially with Big Tobacco.

Uruguay is currently facing a $2 billion lawsuit from Philip Morris, which alleges that the country's strict anti-tobacco law — which forces the cigarette maker to cover 80% of its packets with graphic warnings — violates its intellectual property rights. Current law prevents smoking in all closed public spaces as well. And during Monday's visit, Mujica did not mince his words.

"We are in an arduous fight — very arduous — and we must fight against very strong interests. Governments must not be involved in private litigation, but here we're fighting for life," he told Obama, who quit smoking in 2011.

And that's not all. While marijuana was an unmentioned factor in Mujica and Obama's tobacco discussion, there was also another elephant in the room: Guantanamo Bay.

Less than two months ago, Mujica accepted Obama's request to take in five prisoners from the infamous detention center. "I was imprisoned for many years and I know how it is," said Mujica, who was jailed for 14 years under Uruguay's military dictatorship. "They are coming as refugees, and there will be a place for them in Uruguay if they want to bring their families."

Between legalizing marijuana, calling out Big Tobacco, helping to take down Gitmo and encouraging bilingual education, Mujica is essentially the liberal president that Obama wanted to be.

And he doesn't have a problem commenting on Obama's appearance either.

"The first thing he said to me is that my hair has become much grayer," Obama said.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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