Uruguay ex-president Jose Mujica diagnosed with ‘challenging’ cancer

By Thomson Reuters Apr 29, 2024 | 2:20 PM

By Lucinda Elliott

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) – Jose Mujica, Uruguay’s former president and one of Latin America’s best-known leaders, announced a cancer diagnosis on Monday that doctors say will be challenging to treat.

Mujica, who turns 89 in May, said that a tumor was discovered in his esophagus during a routine medical exam on Friday.

“This is obviously very complicated and doubly so in my case,” Mujica, who led the small South American country’s leftist government from 2010 to 2015, told reporters on Monday.

Doctors were assessing the best course of treatment, he said, but had cautioned that chemotherapy and surgery posed challenges due to an autoimmune disease he suffers from.

Mujica – a former guerrilla known to many Uruguayans simply by his nickname “Pepe” – was 74 when he became president and has remained politically active during his retirement.

He drew widespread international attention during his presidency for allowing abortions in early pregnancy – a regional first in predominantly Catholic South America – and backing a proposal to legalize marijuana sales.

Mujica promised on Monday that his diagnosis would not keep him from fighting for the causes he holds dear.

“I want to convey to all the young people that life is beautiful, but it wears out and you fall,” he said. “The point is to start over every time you fall, and if there is anger, transform it into hope.”

Uruguay holds presidential elections in October and the left-wing Frente Amplio or Broad Front coalition that Mujica once led is slightly ahead in most opinion polls. They will face the center-right coalition that has been power since 2020.

Yamandu Orsi, one of the candidates vying for the presidency for the Broad Front, said the news of Mujica’s diagnosis had given the political campaign a fresh “boost” because it showed the need to continue fighting. “Pepe reinforces how we must value life,” Orsi told reporters.

(Reporting by Lucinda Elliott in Montevideo Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien)