When reading the news, and, for that matter, posts on this blog, you might start to think that awfully little is done to help the people of this world who are in need. That, unfortunately, would probably be true. Still, that doesn’t mean that nobody is taking action or that nobody in the world actually cares about the struggles of these people. There are exceptions out there, and those exceptions need to be underlined, because we are in desperate need of some good examples.
In 2010, José Mujica became President of the South-American country of Uruguay, a rather small nation of 3.5 million that is dwarfed in comparison with its neighbours Brazil and Argentina. From the very beginning, he has been an exceptional character who has drawn much praise from the international community: aside from bringing about legalisation of gay marriage and marijuana (the latter in order to combat powerful drug cartels), he is mostly known for being the “poorest President in the world.” Not because Uruguay is such a poor country, mind you, but because he donates 90% of his salary to good causes and refuses to live in his presidential palace, instead sticking to an old farmhouse in the country and driving a very old Volkswagen Beetle. In short, he is the Pope Francis of politics.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that he is popular in his own country or that he is the most perfect President any country could have: his popularity ratings have been dropping, because in the end, people care more about economic results than the lifestyle of their country’s leader. But still, it portrays a message to world leaders all over, and that can only be a good thing.
What inspired this post, however, was one of his more recent decisions: Mujica decided to help some of the Syrian refugees. Doing what no other country has willingly consented to, Mujica invited over 100 Syrian refugees to come and live in his country, where they will be given jobs and education, all of it without any compensation. The argument is simple: Uruguay, just like any other country, needs people to work. Grateful Syrian refugees are perfect for that, because they will be more than willing to work, which means that his decision does not only help these refugees, but that it might even have a positive effect on the economy in the long run.
Better still, a few days ago six Arabic men arrived from Guantanamo Bay: they too had been invited. These six men had been locked up without a trial for 12 years, meaning that in every legal sense they were nothing more than innocent yet still they had to suffer, if not physical, at the very least immense psychological torture. Because no country would have them, though, they were stuck in Guantanamo for a further 5 years after they were “proven innocent” in 2009, with no chance to continue the lives that had been so brutally taken away from them. These six men were taken in by Uruguay, finally giving them and their entire families the chance to start a new life. Where nations priding themselves in their human rights record faltered, the small nation of Uruguay stepped up, showing the world that the time when it was up to Western countries to give the right example has long passed.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s all perfect now. In fact, there are millions of refugees still stuck in the Middle East, many of them living in refugee camps for years, if not decades, making those 120 people flown to Uruguay seem almost insignificant, but that doesn’t take away the importance of the initiative. Mujica has shown that this is possible, and all these 120 lives, each of them as important as our own lives, will be improved beyond comparison. A lot of work still remains to be done, but it is the heroism of people like Mujica that can make a difference. The only question is whether the rest of the world will follow the example.
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