The small nation of Uruguay rarely comes to the attention of Americans.
However, this year was different.
Uruguay legalized gay marriage, cultivation and sale of marijuana, and passed an affirmative action law for people of African descent. All in the same year.
Sí se puede. Acá en Uruguay.
While everyone has marvelled at what Uruguay has accomplished, few people have stopped to wonder who is responsible for pushing through these groundbreaking laws.
I want to introduce you to the most amazing modern politician in the world - José "Pepe" Mujica
Imagine for a moment the President of the United States a) gave away 90% of his salary to charity, b) drove around in a rusty VW bug, c) decided that instead of living in the White House, he would live in a small farmhouse outside the capital, and designated the White House as a homeless shelter.
You can't, can you? It's something only a fiction writer like Douglas Adams could invent. It certainly couldn't exist in reality. Politicians just don't do that.
But that's reality today in Uruguay.
Please watch the BBC interview.
The fact that his 3-legged dog is mentioned when people talk about his security detail would seem to be the punchline to this story. But it's not.
To understand his extremely unusual style of being president, it helps to understand where he comes from.
The president is a former member of the Tupamaros guerrilla group, which was notorious in the early 1970s for bank robberies, kidnappings and distributing stolen food and money among the poor. He was shot by police six times and spent 14 years in a military prison, much of it in dungeon-like conditions.The guy simply has an amazing background. He's coming from a place so far away in left-field, and he's overcome so much, that you have to think he's capable of just about anything.
But the man who is best known as Pepe says those who consider him poor fail to understand the meaning of wealth. "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."
Imagine a guy this liberal that the right-wing rag, DailyMail, has praised with the headline: Finally! A politician who DOESN’T fiddle his expenses
Mujica describes Uruguay as "an island of refugees in a world of crazy people". If they can elect someone like Mujica as president, I think he has a point.