The “poorest president on earth” has received a million-dollar offer to buy his clapped-out old blue 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, which became a symbol of his modest lifestyle.
Uruguayan president Jose Mujica claimed in an interview with local weekly newspaper Busqueda that an Arab Sheikh offered him $1 million for the vintage car during the G77 summit in Bolivia in June.
“That’s what they said to me,” Mr Mujica said when asked about the offer at a press conference. “But I didn’t give it any importance.”
The 79-year-old president, a former leftist Tupamaro guerrilla leader who was shot by police six times and spent 14 years in a military prison, said if he received the million-dollar offer he would give it all away – either to a homeless charity that he has long supported or to the local public health service in the form of trucks.
Although the president confessed he felt “no commitment” to the car, claiming he had only kept it for so long because of his three-legged dog Manuela, he said he understood why others might wish to buy it.
“Human beings have a bit of fetishism; we need certain material symbols,”he said, telling the gathered press he still owned a shovel and hammer that belonged to his father.
“They are little things to the world but are worth a lot to you.”
When Mr Mujica came to power in 2010 he famously declared the car was the sum total of his worldly wealth. He continues to donate 20 per cent of total monthly income to his political movement, alongside the remainder of his income to various charities that he supports.
In 2012 he announced the presidential palace would be included among the state shelters for the homeless, while continuing to live on a flower farm – owned by his wife – in Montevideo.
The president, who carries the affectionate nickname Pepe, is dismissive of those who applaud his modest lifestyle.
“I’m not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live,”he said.”My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I’m the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress.”
Mr Mujica made headlines around the world during his term, firstly when he legalised gay marriage, then abortion and most recently marijuana. His actions have won him international plaudits and seen Uruguay labelled the most socially liberal country in Latin America.
He cannot stand for a successive term under the present Uruguayan constitution.