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Two Uruguayan ex-presidents quit politics on same day

·2-min read
Uruguayan former presidents Julio Sanguinetti (left) and Jose Mujica, embrace during their last session as senators at the Congress in Montevideo on October 20, 2020
Uruguayan former presidents Julio Sanguinetti (left) and Jose Mujica, embrace during their last session as senators at the Congress in Montevideo on October 20, 2020

Two former Uruguayan presidents -- including the iconic Jose Mujica known as the world's "poorest" leader during his term in office -- resigned from frontline politics on Tuesday.

Mujica, 85 -- a former left-wing guerrilla -- said the coronavirus pandemic was behind his decision as he suffers from a weakened immune system.

Julio Maria Sanguinetti, who was Uruguay's first president following the end of the dictatorship, said his decision was taken before last year's election.

Mujica became a cult figure during his 2010-15 presidency for giving away most of his salary and an austere lifestyle that included driving an old Volkswagen Beetle.

"Honestly, I'm going because the pandemic is tossing me out," said Mujica, who was a serving senator.

"Being a senator means talking to people and going all over the place. The game isn't played in offices," he added.

"And I'm doubly threatened, by old age and illness."

He said he was leaving "with great regret" but that he was "grateful, with many memories and deep nostalgia."

Mujica is one of the top officials in the leftist Broad Front coalition that spent 15 years in power until it was ousted in last year's election by center-right leader Luis Lacalle Pou.

The veteran politician gained international recognition for his unconventional style but at home he was a controversial figure due to his guerrilla past.

He was part of the MLN-Tupumaros rebels that waged an insurgency during the 1960s and 70s against democratic governments.

Many Uruguayans blamed them for provoking the 1973 military coup that ushered in a dictatorship that lasted until 1985.

Mujica spent a decade in prison during that time, much of it in solitary confinement.

Sanguinetti, 84, served two terms as president, from 1985-1990 and 1995-2000.

He said he was standing down as a senator due to "the need to serve as general secretary of the Colorado Party" as well as journalistic commitments. 

gv/dga/bc/ft