Human happiness and the environment – Address by Uruguayan president Jose Mujica at Rio +20 Summit

This is a rare entry for my blog. I was deeply moved by this speech by Mujica, and it expressed many views I share with the man I am proud to have voted to be president of my country. Much as I was in awe of his eloquence and heart-warming simplicity, I was also appalled by the poor quality of the translation that was inflicted upon the non-Spanish speaking attendees of the Summit. So, I decided to translate the speech for the benefit of the non-Spanish speaking world. Listen carefully. It might not be too late.

20/06/12 Speech by José Mujica in the Rio +20 summit

Image from  pericopalotes

To all of the authorities present here, from every latitude and organization, thank you very much. I want to thank the people of Brazil and Mrs. President, Dilma Rousseff. Thank you all for the good faith undoubtedly expressed by all of the speakers that preceded me.

We hereby express our innermost will as rulers, to adhere to all the agreements our wretched humanity, may chance to subscribe.

Notwithstanding, let us take this opportunity to ask some questions out loud. All afternoon long, we have been talking about sustainable development, about rescuing the masses from the claws of poverty.

What is it that flutters within our minds? Is it the model of development and consumption, which is shaped after that of affluent societies? I ask this question: what would happen to this planet if the people of India had the same number of cars per family as the Germans? How much oxygen would there be left for us to breathe? More clearly: Does the world today have the material elements to enable 7 or 8 billion people to enjoy the same level of consumption and squandering as the most affluent Western societies? WIll that ever be possible? Or will we have to start a different type of discussion one day? Because we have created this civilization in which we live: the progeny of the market, of the competition, which has begotten prodigious and explosive material progress. But the market economy has created market societies. And it has given us this globalization, which means being aware of the whole planet.

Are we ruling over globalization or is globalization ruling over us? Is it possible to speak of solidarity and of “being all together” in an economy based on ruthless competition? How far does our fraternity go?

I am not saying any of to undermine the importance of this event. On the contrary, the challenge ahead of us is of a colossal magnitude and the great crisis is not an ecological crisis, but rather a political one.

Today, man does not govern the forces he has unleashed, but rather, it is these forces that govern man; and life. Because we do not come into this planet simply to develop, just like that, indiscriminately. We come into this planet to be happy. Because life is short and it slips away from us. And no material belonging is worth as much as life, and this is fundamental.But if life is going to slip through my fingers, working and over-working in order to be able to consume more, and the consumer society is the engine-because ultimately, if consumption is paralyzed, the economy stops, and if you stop economy, the ghost of stagnation appears for each one of us, but it is this hyper-consumption that is harming the planet. And this hyper-consumption needs to be generated, making things that have a short useful life, in order to sell a lot. Thus, a light bulb cannot last longer than 1000 hours. But there are light bulbs that last 100,000 hours! But these cannot be manufactured, because the problem is the market, because we have to work and we have to sustain a civilization of “use and discard”, and so, we are trapped in a vicious cycle. These are problems of a political nature, which are showing us that it’s time to start fighting for a different culture.

I’m not talking about returning to the days of the caveman, or erecting a “monument to backwardness.” But we cannot continue like this, indefinitely, being ruled by the market, on the contrary, we have to rule over the market.

This is why I say, in my humble way of thinking, that the problem we are facing is political. The old thinkers. Epicurus, Seneca and even the Aymara put it this way, a poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more and more.” This is a cultural issue.

So I salute the efforts and agreements being made. And I will adhere to them, as a ruler. I know some things I’m saying are not easy to digest. But we must realize that the water crisis and the aggression to the environment is not the cause. The cause is the model of civilization that we have created. And the thing we have to re-examine is our way of life.

I belong to a small country well endowed with natural resources for life. In my country, there are a bit more than 3 million people. But there are about 13 million cows, some of the best in the world. And about 8 or 10 million excellent sheep. My country is an exporter of food, dairy, meat. It is a low-relief plain and almost 90% of the land is fertile.

My fellow workers, fought hard for the 8 hour workday. And now they are making that 6 hours. But the person who works 6 hours, gets two jobs, therefore, he works longer than before. But why? Because he needs to make monthly payments for: the motorcycle, the car, more and more payments, and when he’s done with that, he realizes he is a rheumatic old man, like me, and his life is already over.

And one asks this question: is this the fate of human life? These things I say are very basic: development cannot go against happiness. It has to work in favor of human happiness, of love on Earth, human relationships, caring for children, having friends, having our basic needs covered. Precisely because this is the most precious treasure we have; happiness. When we fight for the environment, we must remember that the essential element of the environment is called human happiness.


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39 comments on “Human happiness and the environment – Address by Uruguayan president Jose Mujica at Rio +20 Summit

  2. Brilliant. I have been scouring the internet for a better translation as I too was disturbed by the disjointed, incorrect and confusing simultaneous translation. Yours is wonderfully accurate and conveys President José Mujica’s courageous conviction in this message. Thank you. Will share!

  3. Hola Verónica !

    As you may have noticed, even though not listed here, I have recently linked to this post (from my ‘What’s wrong with our politicians’ post. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to translate President Mujica’s speech properly. It certainly deserves to be widely read in the English-speaking world – especially in those countries like the UK where so many people are still convinced that economic growth is the answer to all our problems (whereas it is in fact our ultimate problem).

    Keep up the excellent work,


  4. Thank you so much for the translation!!
    One intelligent man! I also have hope that if he made it into presidency there must be a lot of people who still can think.

  5. I am writing from Kenya. I only heard of Mujica last week and I have been lapping up everything I could find on him. Its embarrassing that I did not know of this incredible individual. So I started with the limited English language media stories, majorly stuck at the ‘poorest president’ point, then I bumped into this and I have to thank you for sharing this speech with the world.
    Jose Mujica is a rare kind of conscious leader who understands the fundamentals of human happiness and lives by example. I will keep him in my radar.

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  7. Hello Veronica, a most heartwarming thank you for graciously providing a wonderful translation of this most wondrous speech! The website provided is to an old social media site I used to blog a lot on before FB and it still has many resonant writings (social, spiritual, poetry..) in the blog module labeled ‘Writings in the SKeye’. I’ll definitely be checking back here! Viva Uruguay! Peace!

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  10. Pingback: From what I’ve read about Uruguay’s President Mujica, he doesn’t seem to be fully aware of the tremendous threat posed by global warming—the likelihood that it will wipe out most of the world’s population within a matter of decades. Ironically, however, d
  11. thank you so much for this, it has made my day to find it and listen to his speech a few times, I will pass it on as I am able to

    thanks again, be well, David Wilson (Toronto).

  12. I think this is the greatest speech of all times. The president has really pointed out the imminent issues for digestion. World leaders should sit down and give it a second thought to make the world a better place for all.

  13. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I
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  14. Awesome speech- unfortunately I don’t think anyone is going to have much luck in uniting the world to reel in capitalism when all the most powerful forces in global politics are based on this model of thinking,

  15. thanks for your translation
    I am trying to find a transcript for the speech he recently gave at the U. N.
    It is much longer and a more complete and brilliant analysis of our current situation.
    I am hoping to find a translation, perhaps you may be up to the task ????
    I truly hope so.
    Meanwhile I’ll keep looking…….

  16. Munchisimas gracias ,por un trabajo fantástico…soy seguidora y con permiso comparto su blog.Abrazos

  17. Muchas gracias por el amor al traducir las palabras sabias y simples de este pro-hombre. Lo podré compartir con mis amigos que no hablan español.
    Soy chileno, orgullosamente latinoamericano y vivo en China

  18. Gracias por traducir. Oí el discurso en español y quería compartir con mi marido y amigos que hablan inglés.
    Soy ecuatoriana y vivo en California. 🙂

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