Elegant Vazquez replaces folksy Mujica as Uruguay president

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2015 2:00 PM
Elegant Vazquez replaces folksy Mujica as Uruguay president

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — One leftist leader replaced another in Uruguay on Sunday, a change seemingly marked more by style than differences in policy as the elegant Tabare Vazquez took over from the famously casual Jose Mujica, who formally left office in rubber-soled brown shoes.

Vazquez, a 75-year-old oncologist who was president from 2005 to 2010, has said he will allow the government to proceed with one of Mujica's most controversial initiatives, the world's first state-run marijuana marketplace, though he said he will change it if it has negative results.

The new president urged Uruguayans to work together to improve public education, health and housing, and he decried the violence haunting the world beyond.

"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.

Vazquez shook up Uruguayan politics when he became president the first time, peacefully ending 170 years of two-party dominance. But he governed as a relatively cautious moderate and left office with approval ratings of about 70 percent.

Mujica, a 79-year-old flower grower and former guerrilla, held onto that popularity, leaving office with a growing economy, rising salaries and historically low unemployment.

Both represent the Broad Front coalition of parties that range from center-left Christian Democrats to Communists.

Informal to the end, the folksy Mujica wore casual brown shoes with his black suit and, as always, shunned a tie, as he slipped the presidential sash over the shoulder of a tie-wearing Vazquez.

Vazquez has said he will allow the marijuana initiative to go forward. The state has not yet chosen the companies that will cultivate the drug, which is to be sold in pharmacies. But Vazquez said he will closely watch the plan and modify it if things go wrong.

Mujica was famous for driving a 1987 Volkswagen and Vazquez adopted another sort of vintage car for his inaugural processing, waving to the crowd from the bed of a British-built 1951 Fordson pickup. The president's office said it's similar to his first car.