When we think of presidential cars, we think of big, luxurious and bullet-proof limousines. But scattered amongst the proliferation or armour-plated Mercedes-Benz S-Classes and the beast that is the US President’s Cadillac One, is a humble 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, colour light blue.
It belonged to the President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, who served from 2010-2015. Dubbed ‘the world’s poorest president’ Mujica not only donated 90 per cent of his salary to charity, he also refused the trappings of his high office.
Not for him, a bullet-proof BMW 7 Series like that which ferries our own Prime Minister in comfort and safety. Instead, Mujica insisted his personal VW Beetle serve time as the presidential vehicle.
That humble Beetle was Mujica’s only asset, valued at around US$1800 according to the mandatory presidential register of ‘personal wealth’. The ramshackle farm he called home was registered in his wife’s name. He continued to live on the chrysanthemum farm throughout his presidency, foregoing the far more glamorous presidential home in Montevideo.
Mujica’s pale blue Beetle played a starring role at his inauguration, ferrying the newly-elected president to the ceremonial affair flanked by his security detail.
Eschewing a personal driver, Mujica regularly drove his Beetle while in office, his popularity as president skyrocketing. He enjoyed a 60 per cent approval rating. Whether or not his humble Beetle played a role, or whether it was his legalisation of cannabis use in 2013 that led to his popularity, we’ll never know.
His reign ended after one term in 2015 (the Uruguayan constitution bans presidents serving back-to-back terms) but not before he had been offered US$1 million for his humble presidential Bug.
But, Mujica reportedly declined the offer from an Arab sheikh, telling a local radio station, “We could never sell it. We would offend all those friends who pooled together to buy it for us.”
He added he needed the Beetle to transport his three-legged dog, Manuela, who also became a figure of deep affection during Mujica’s presidency.
Following his term as Uruguay’s president, and with his trusted Beetle still in service, Mujica was elected to that country’s senate, serving as a lawmaker until announcing his retirement in 2018.