May 20th, 2024

Iconic former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica says he has esophageal cancer

By The Associated Press on April 29, 2024.

FILE - Uruguay's former President Jose Mujica, left, and his wife Lucia Topolansky enter La Moneda presidential palace for a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the military coup that toppled the government of late President Salvador Allende in Santiago, Chile, Sept. 11, 2023. Mujica announced on April 29, 2024, that he has esophageal cancer after a tumor was detected during a medical check-up. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix, File)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – Uruguay’s former guerilla-turned-president, Jose Mujica, best known for transforming his tiny country into one of the most socially liberal in all of Latin America, said Monday that he has esophageal cancer.

Mujica, 88, said he was diagnosed during a routine medical checkup last Friday. He said the tumor discovered in his esophagus is particularly dangerous because he also suffers from an autoimmune disease.

“This is obviously very complicated and doubly so in my case,” the former president told reporters on Monday, adding that doctors were assessing the best course of action but told him chemotherapy and surgery posed challenges.

Better known as “Pepe” Mujica, the former president – once the leader of the Tupamaros, the Marxist urban guerrilla group that drew inspiration from the Cuban revolution – governed Uruguay from 2010 and 2015.

As a leftist guerrilla in the 1960s and early 1970s, he wielded weapons in the streets in an effort to overthrow the government, getting shot by police several times and ultimately landing in prison until the fall of the country’s brutal dictatorship led to his release in 1985.

As Uruguay’s 40th president, Mujica legalized same-sex marriage – a bold move in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. He also made Uruguay the first nation in the world to fully legalize recreational marijuana. He was widely admired as a politician who lived up to his values, shunning the presidential palace in favor of his modest house on the outskirts of Montevideo, the country’s capital.

Although Mujica left the Senate in 2020, he remained politically active in the Broad Front, a coalition of leftist parties and centrist social democrats.

He promised that the cancer would not keep him from continuing to push for the causes he supports. In his typically charming and spontaneous style, Mujica turned the news conference about his diagnosis into an inspirational speech for Uruguayan youth.

“I want to convey to all the young people that life is beautiful, but it wears out and you fall,” he said. “The point is to start over every time you fall, and if there is anger, transform it into hope.”

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