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Uruguay's Mujica: big abroad, questioned at home

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 18, 2014 at 6:07 pm •  Published: March 18, 2014

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Uruguayan President Jose Mujica's cantankerous personality, homespun oratory and simple ways have made him wildly popular abroad.

American rockers Aerosmith and actors Sean Penn and Glenn Close are huge Mujica fans and have visited him in Uruguay. The former leftist guerrilla has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and his speech at the Rio-20 environmental conference urging simplicity in a world of conspicuous consumption has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

But back home, "Pepe," as he's known to many, fails to generate as much devotion.

Mujica has a 47 percent approval rating, according to poll by the Cifra consulting firm. The survey of 1,000 people was carried out in February and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Mujica's rating is still better than any other Uruguayan president since the country's return to democracy, except for his predecessor Tabare Vazquez.

But many are disappointed with his presidency.

Cifra's director, Adriana Raga, says there is widespread criticism of perceived inefficiency. "Many people share Mujica's ideas, but they feel that very few of them materialize."

Mujica, who still lives on a flower farm with his wife, rarely dons a tie and drives an old VW Beetle, has led Uruguay through stable economic growth and better wages. His social agenda has included laws approving gay marriage and the creation of the world's first national marketplace for legal marijuana.

But critics say his government failed to address improvements in education, security and protection of the environment, pillars of his presidential agenda.

In the results of the 2012 Program for International Assessment, or PISA, evaluating high school students around the world, Uruguay got its worst grades in math, reading and science since 2003.

Gang shootouts and armed robberies have also raised security concerns and taken a toll on the popularity of Mujica, who is also questioned for his support of a huge open-pit mining project.

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