Abdalá Bucaram, "A Crazy Man Who Loves"

“They call me Crazy Abdalá, but madmen speak from the heart and see with their soul”. So says Abdalá Bucaram Ortiz, and the man has always practiced what he has preached. Just who is this guy, and why should we care? Abdalá Bucaram may be the most famous Ecuadorian – some say infamous – ever, both within his home country and in the wider world beyond.

Born in a tough neighborhood in coastal Guayaquil to hard-working Lebanese immigrants, Abdalá Bucaram spent his youth playing soccer in the streets and studying hard in school. Both efforts paid off: Bucaram earned degrees in physical education and law, and was a sprinter on Ecuador’s 1972 Olympic team. Deciding on a career in politics, he then put his street smarts to work by building up a loyal constituency among the poor of Guayaquil that eventually saw him elected as the city’s mayor. As Bucaram continued to portray himself as the champion of the oppressed, rising discontent with “the system” in Ecuador succeeded in winning him the ultimate prize: the presidency of the country, in July of 1996. That’s where the trouble began… Bucaram’s populism was most effective when challenging authority. Now, HE was the authority…

In an effort to take attention away from a growing list of scandals and corruption allegations, Bucaram began to do what he did best – be himself. It started with the release of his music CD titled “A Crazy Man Who Loves” (“el loco que ama” in Spanish). Continuing to exploit the media, Bucaram shaved off his trademark moustache on live TV. Alas, he had but one moustache to shave for his country, so he followed that up by inviting another famous/infamous Ecuadorian, Lorena Bobbitt, to have lunch with him at the national palace. It isn’t known whether the cutlery included knives that day.

President Bucaram not only attended the World Banana Queen contest, he grabbed the microphone and crooned to the winner, surrounded by scantily clad contestants. By this time, many in Ecuador had thought Bucaram’s antics had gone past comedic and into the realm of lunatic. When he slandered an ex-president by comparing him to a “burro” (donkey), he didn’t help matters. His public apology – not to the politician, but to donkeys – just made things worse. Finally in February of 1997, with demonstrations in the streets and the economy in shambles, the Ecuadorian Congress impeached Bucaram on the grounds of “mental disability” and he quickly flew into exile in Panama to escape looming corruption charges.

And that’s where the Abdalá Bucaram story ends… or does it? In April of 2005, Abdalá Bucaram stepped off a helicopter onto the steamy streets of Guayaquil to the cheers of thousands of supporters. Shouting to the crowd that he was “older and crazier than ever”, the clean-shaven Bucaram declared his intent to regain the presidency of Ecuador. Stay tuned… the man they call “El Loco” is back!