Arab oil shieks. I’m willing to bet that those words have just conjured an image of a lot of people in keffiyehs stepping aboard their gold-plated private jets. Yeah, perhaps taste is not a particular quality of the newly rich oil billionaire from the UAE. It almost seems that they will buy pretty much buy anything they want when they want it. Taste and class matters not so long as it’s rare and expensive. So how the hell is it that an Arab billionaire wanted to pay one million dollars for…a well-used 1987 Beetle!?
Okay, I guess it’s rare in countries where the Beetle was actually replaced by the Golf instead of being sold alongside it. And Latin American Beetles were a bit different than the German ones, including some late-life changes. Features like integrated headrests and the larger rear window that Americans had gotten since 1972, were added in 1985, the same year that Mexico-produced Beetles stopped being exported to Europe. In 1986 Brazil said it was going to stop producing Beetles; that is until they decided to start production again in 1993. Really and truly, there’s absolutely no reason why a 1987 Brazilian Beetle should be worth that much money. And really it wasn’t worth much to start with, considering it was a gift from friends to its current owner. He’s the added value.
You see this pale blue 1987 Beetle is owned by one Jose Mujica, the soon to be ex-president of Uruguay, and the guy that people should use as a benchmark for a good politician. He was born in 1935 in a primarily industrial barrio and lost his father at the age of five. His uncle introduced him to the world of politics and pretty soon he was already a follower of the Nacional party. Following the lead of a party leader, he separated himself from the party and joined efforts with the Uruguayan socialist party to create a new party called “Union Popular”. It wasn’t particularly successful, only achieving 2.3% of the vote in its inaugural election in 1962.
His journey into the radical left wasn’t quite complete yet. Latin American politics have never been quite as sedate as American ones. While America was tearing itself apart on issues of race and Vietnam in the 1960’s, Latin America was doing a good job of having all the conflict without having to invade other countries to do it. In Uruguay’s case, the Nacional-Tupamaros liberation movement were the deterrent of the ruling ultra-right government of the time. This was a different kind of right than the one we’re used to. Mujica was shot six times and thrown in jail four times. Although, to be fair, he escaped two times. In 1972, though, it seemed like he would be in the big house for good.
I’ll skip the long boring politics involved in the process to introduce a law forgiving political crimes, which made it possible for Mujica to walk away as a free man in 1985. And he did return to politics in a considerably more diplomatic and open environment. In 1994, he made it to congress and in 1999, he became a senator. 10 years later, on October 25, 1999 he made it all the way to the presidency. Now that I’ve typed that, the parallels to a certain Mr. Nelson Mandela seem almost impossible to overlook.
Why would this man be a benchmark for politics? Well, to put it simply, he’s a man that has been completely honest and dedicated to the people. That faceless mask that our suits in charge claim to defend and look out for? Yeah, how many of them would decide to use the presidential house for formal events only and keep on living on their own home? And how many of them have a home you can call modest? It’s not like he’s just storing it all for his early retirement, partly because he’s already 79 but mostly because most of his wage goes to charity.
And his blue 1987 Beetle has long since become part of the legend. The same way one associates The Dude with a very beaten-up Torino and the Pope (the last one at least) with the Popemobile, that blue Beetle is very much ingrained on the image of Mr. Mujica. I certainly can’t picture him in a Cadillac or a Land Cruiser. Here he is leading a parade lap for the 10th anniversary Super Beetle category race. He didn’t actually take part in the race though; he has proclaimed that he has “No commitment to cars”. The Beetle just so happens to compliment his personality and lifestyle ideally. This means the performance characteristics of this particular Beetle are as-of-yet untested. I’m guessing they’re exactly the same as any ordinary 1987 Beetle though.
There in that word, ‘Ordinary’, lies the charm of Mujica. The fact that he never seemed to let politics get to his head, keeping it clear to get on with his mission to serve the people. His humility is almost unheard of in politicians. This is especially noticeable here, as Latin American leaders have a nasty tendency of trying to perpetuate their power. It’s highly unlikely that the sheik that intended to buy his VW would’ve treated it as humbly. Maybe he just wanted a new toy to show off how people-conscious and in touch with humanity he was. Maybe he would’ve pulled a Sultan of Brunei and left it to rot on a garage. We’ll never find out as Jose Mujica rejected the million dollar offer. Not because it was too much money; he had already picked out a charity to donate to. But rather because he didn’t want to, and, I quote, “Offend the friends that saved up and bought it for me” years ago.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if he stayed in power. As for the sheik buying it…would he perhaps be interested in a certain 1984 Tercel Wagon? I won’t mind if he even gold-plates it.