One of Ecuador most colorful, but shortest-serving presidents, is coming home.
After 20 years of exile in Panama, Abdalá Bucaram has been legally cleared to return to Ecuador without threat of arrest. His son, Dalo Bucaram, announced Thursday that the National Court of Justice has withdrawn an arrest warrant against his father for alleged corruption. An another warrant had been withdrawn earlier.
Bucaram and his friends and family have long-claimed that the embezzlement charges as well as the claim that he was mentally unstable were pretenses by opposition politicians for his 1997 impeachment and conviction.
Serving as president only from August 10, 1996 to February 6, 1997, Bucaram came into an office during a time of deep economic recession throughout Latin America. Elected as a populist, he promised to restore confidence in government, balance the national budget and to curb the power of private banks. Almost immediately, after proposing cuts to a broad range of government subsidies, new banking regulations and currency devaluation, he faced massive public protests and calls for his impeachment from both the political right and left.
According to Dalo Bucaram, his father was elected during a time when it was almost impossible to govern the country. “There was terrible financial stress and the banks had a strangle-hold on the government since previous administrations had sold them public assets and granted them self-regulatory authority,” he said.
Within two years of Bucaram’s election, Ecuador went into a financial melt-down that resulted in the abandonment of the national currency, the sucre, and adoption of the U.S. dollar.
His opponents also focused on Bucaram’s love of dance, song and partying, which had earned him the nickname “El Loco” during his term as mayor of Guayaquil. He was well-known for sharing the stage and microphone with big-name entertainers, and some members of the Ecuadorian Congress insisted he was crazy, partying instead of running the country.
One Congressman was widely quoted as saying, referring to nationwide protests, that, “Bucaram danced while Quito burned.”
Even though the Ecuadorian constitutional court ruled that his impeachment and conviction were illegal, Congress ordered the Army to remove him from office and he fled to Panama.
Born in Guayaquil to Lebanese immigrants, Bucaram earned early fame as a professional football player. He was the brother-in-law of populist president Jaime Roldós who was assassinated in 1981. His sister, Martha Bucaram, died with Roldós when the presidential airplane was bombed near Loja.