Monday, November 30, 2009

Ex-guerrilla easily wins Uruguay presidency

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — President-elect Jose Mujica retreated to his flower farm and shunned the spotlight on Monday, saying that dumping more talk on Uruguayans after a speech-filled campaign "would be like raining on what is already wet."

Congratulations poured in from across Latin America for the former guerrilla whose homespun manner and vows to govern as a conciliator persuaded his nation to trust him with its democracy.

Mujica won 53 percent of Sunday's vote to 43 percent for former President Luis A. Lacalle.

His victory owes much to the popularity of outgoing socialist President Tabare Vazquez, a physician whose 2005 victory ended 150 years of rule by right-wing parties or the military. Vazquez's coalition chose Mujica to run for the single-term presidency.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who rose from leftist union chief to govern as a centrist in neighboring Brazil, praised his "dear friend" and predicted that Mujica will advance the cause of creating a more just society.

Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa said Mujica's "historic victory also represents a triumph for Uruguyan democracy and for the region."

And Mexico's conservative Felipe Calderon called Mujica to invite him to visit.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, however, may have touched some sore nerves with his message, praising the guerrilla past that Mujica assured Uruguayans he had put behind him.

Chavez called Mujica a symbol of leftist resistance who always fought with morality on his side and whose presence is now necessary to counter "gorilismo" — referring to right-wing coup plotters in Latin America.

Chavez went on to laud the militance of the National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros, the movement that Mujica helped found in the 1960s and that carried out bombings, kidnappings and robberies to overthrow elected governments of the time.

During the campaign, Mujica repeatedly denied that he would hijack Uruguay's stable parliamentary democracy and install a radical socialist state modeled on Chavez's in Venezuela. He insisted that he's inspired instead by Silva's performance as president.

The Tupamaro guerrillas caused so much chaos in the 1960s that many Uruguayans initially welcomed a dictatorship that ruled from 1973 to 1985. Mujica spent all that time in prison, enduring torture and solitary confinement for killing a policeman — a crime he denies committing.

He says prison cured him of any illusion that armed revolution can achieve lasting social change, and he now rejects the "stupid ideologies" of the past.

No comments: