José "Pepe" Mujica
José "Pepe" Mujica AFP / Pablo Porciouncula Brune

Former Uruguayan president and Latin American political icon José Mujica announced on Monday he has a tumor in his esophagus. "It's something very serious and doubly complex in my case because I have had an immunological disease for 20 years that affected my kidneys," Mujica said in a press conference.

He added that doctors are evaluating the treatment to follow due to the "obvious difficulties" that undergoing chemotherapy or another type of surgery could mean, also considering that he is 88-year old.

Colloquially known as "Pepe," Mujica dished one of his usual metaphors when referring to his upcoming battle: "I want to convey to you that in my life more than once the grim reaper has hovered around my bed. But it has shepherded me all these years. We will see what happens."

Accompanied by his lifelong companion Lucía Topolansky, the former president took the opportunity to send a hopeful message to young people:

"Fight for love, do not be seduced by hatred. If drugs happen to catch you, do not stay alone. No one saves him or herself alone. Ask for help, fight. The only freedom is in the head and it's called will. And if we do not use it, we are not free. This must be understood. Life is beautiful, it wears out and goes away. The crux of the matter to succeed in life is to start over every time you fall. And if there is anger, transform it into hope."

As a militant of the National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros, Mujica was imprisoned from 1972 to 1984, during the last military dictatorship in Uruguay. By 1989, he was elected deputy and then senator for one of the country's two main political parties, Broad Front. In 2009 he ran as a left-wing candidate in the country's presidential elections, being elected the 40th president of Uruguay after defeating Luis Alberto Lacalle (father of current president Luis Lacalle Pou).

After his presidency ended, he was elected senator in 2014 and re-elected in 2019, a position he resigned from in 2020 to retire from political activity in favor of popular advocacy. He has become one of the most influential leaders of the progressive left movement worldwide.

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