Uruguay’s liberal president – who proposed a state-run cannabis marketplace – handed his power over to a new leader yesterday.
Jose Mujica, who is known for giving away most of his salary and living humbly on a farm with his family and three-legged dog, presented his presidential sash to Tabare Vazquez on Sunday.
Vazquez, a 75-year-old oncologist, said he will retain the legal status of cannabis that was implemented in December 2013, but he said he will stop government supply if the scheme goes wrong.
Possession of cannabis currently carries no penalty and, since August last year, citizens have been allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home.
Each registered person would be able to buy up to 1.4oz (40 grams) of cannabis from government-backed pharmacies per month in the near future.
Mujica, 79, is a farmer and former guerrilla fighter who is famous for driving a blue 1987 VW Beetle. He has left office to become a Senator.
Uruguay has experienced 12 years of booming economy, rising salaries and historically low unemployment while neighbouring Brazil and Argentina are experiencing economic downturns.
The Marxist former president, known as Pepe by Uruguayans and had spent 14 years in prison for fighting with the rebel Tupamaros National Liberation Movement during the 1960s and 70s, is also known for legislating abortions and gay marriage.
“He’s the best president we’ve ever had,” said Charo Baroni, a 66-year-old housewife who was in the crowd for the ceremony, according to AFP.
“I'm sorry to see him go. Tabare is good too. But Pepe is Pepe.”
Mujica wore his usual smart-casual attire of brown rubber-soled shoes, a black suit and a shirt with no tie for the ceremony.
New president Vazquez urged Uruguayans to work together to improve public education, health and housing, and he decried the violence haunting the world.
“Seldom in history has humanity been so shaken, so beaten, so overwhelmed as in these times. Violence, fear, terror, intolerance stalk different regions of our planet,” he said in his inaugural address.
The new leader is not a stranger to presidency as he was in power from 2005 to 2010. He ended 170 years of two-party dominance and left office with approval ratings of about 70 percent.
Both politicians represent the Broad Front coalition of parties that range from centre-left Christian Democrats to Communists.
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