Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Man Who Lived Two Years at the Bottom of a Well

Among the countries of the globe, Uruguay ranks 135th in population (3.3 million). Connecticut (3.5 million) is bigger, but Uruguay has 12 times more territory. You might call it an empty land with but 18 people per square mile—over against Connecticut’s 739.

The president of Uruguay is 78-year old José Mujica  (1935-). As a young man he joined the Tupamaros, a communist liberation movement that sprang up in Uruguay in the 1960s. He spent his youth fighting a civil war, in and out of prisons. In 1973, at age 38, he went into a military prison and spent 14 years in confinement; in the course of that imprisonment he spent more than two years in solitary confinement at the bottom of a well. He was 50 when he was at last released in 1985 after the return of constitutional democracy and a general amnesty. Then began his career in politics.

I know of this because Mujica lives very modestly on a farm where he and his wife, Lucia Topolansky, raise chrysanthemums for sale to the public. He gives most of his salary away and refuses to live in the Presidential Palace in Montevideo which awaits him with 42 servants on the payroll. And Mujica is also an advocate of legalizing marijuana. Such a profile qualifies him for sainthood under the dispensations of modernity, hence the press coverage. But never mind the cultural ethos that leads to publicity.

What left an impression on me, reading a story in the New York Times, was the almost infinite variety of lives lived on this globe—that and those two years spent at the bottom of a well. That, surely, will do something to a person. The mind, will, and the soul will change all in proportion to the innate character of the person who undergoes the ordeal.

My image, showing Mujica at 74, is from El Diario (link).

1 comment:

  1. NY Times article makes one disservice to Mujica and Tupamaros is to forget to make any mention to the background of their struggle. In 1970 the government (which had been backed since 1965 by US military advisors) suspended many civil rights and opted for full-right military backed dictatorship in 1973, which lasted until 1985.

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