Uruguayan president lectures US at WH

Uruguayan president lectures US at WH
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Uruguayan President Jose Mujica Cordano offered some advice for Americans during a visit to the White House on Monday: learn a foreign language and put down the cigarettes.


Mujica, a farmer and former guerrilla, said the world was in "an arduous fight" against "very strong [corporate] interests" who were promoting tobacco use.

"In the world, 8 million people are dying from smoking" each year, Mujica said, adding, "it's murder."

Philip Morris International, which spun off from American tobacco and food giant Altria in 2008, is currently suing Uruguay at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, arguing that a 2009 law requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packs violates intellectual property rights.

The Uruguay government says PMI has demanded $2 billion in the suit — representing 4 percent of Uruguay's annual gross domestic product, and Mujica was expected to lobby the president for help with the lawsuit.

Mujica, known colloquially as the world's "poorest president," lives on his small family chrysanthemum farm outside of Montevideo, rather than in the presidential palace. He also drives an aging Volkswagen Beetle.

He suggested Americans needed to get ready for changing demographics, as the people of Uruguay had.

"We live in a time when we need to learn English — yes, or yes?" he asked. "And you will have to become a bilingual country — yes, or yes? Because the strength of Latin women is admirable, and they will fill this country with people who speak Spanish and Portuguese, too."

This story was updated May 14, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.