WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Uruguay President Jose Mujica, meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama, on Monday urged the United States to become bilingual, joking that immigrants from Latin America would fill the country with Spanish speakers.
“We belong to a continent where our mother tongue is more or less Spanish. And we live in a time where we need to learn English,” the leftist Mujica, dressed in a suit but no tie, said to Obama.
“And you will have to become a bilingual country ... because the strength of Latin women is admirable and they will fill this country with people who speak Spanish and Portuguese, too,” he said.
Obama is pushing for broad immigration reform in the United States that would require undocumented immigrants to learn English, pay fines and eventually earn a pathway to citizenship. The effort is stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mujica also used his time with the U.S. president to encourage a fight against smoking, which he said was killing 8 million people around the world every year.
“That is more than World War I, World War II. It’s murder. We are in an arduous fight - very arduous - and we must fight against very strong interests,” he said, according to an interpreter.
Obama is a former smoker.
The U.S. president praised Mujica for his leadership. He did not mention the issue of marijuana. Mujica signed a decree earlier this month outlining a new policy that would allow Uruguayans to be able to buy up to 10 grams of marijuana a week at between $0.85 and $1 a gram, a low price compared to the black market.
“I have had the pleasure on several occasions of having discussions with President Mujica, and have been consistently impressed with the progress that Uruguay has been making under his presidency,” Obama told reporters, speaking before his counterpart in the Oval Office.
He said both men were interested in deepening their respective countries’ mutual bonds.
“So this gives us an opportunity to find ways that we can further deepen this relationship. We both think that there’s room for additional work to expand trade and commerce between our countries,” Obama said.
(This story has been refiled to fix misspelling of “deepening” in 10th paragraph)
Editing by Cynthia Osterman