The former president nicknamed "The Crazy One" for his flamboyant antics returned home after spending eight years in exile in Panama, telling thousands of rallying supporters he plans to lead a "revolution of the poor" modeled around that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"I come to Ecuador to copy Chavez's style with a great Bolivarian revolution," Abdala Bucaram said Saturday, referring to the leftist Venezuelan president's movement, which is loosely based on the writings of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Bucaram's return came two days after he was cleared of criminal action by Ecuador's high court. The ruling by Supreme Court President Guillermo Castro was criticized by political rivals as a rigged decision to annul corruption charges against the populist former president.
Bucaram, who arrived to the rally several hours later than scheduled in a helicopter, said he would oppose "the imposition of military bases" on Ecuador -- an apparent reference to the US' use of the Manta air base as an operations center in its war on drug trafficking in Latin America. He also spoke out against regional free trade agreements with the US.
"With my fist I tell them that Abadala comes to lead a revolution of the poor," said Bucaram, who is expected to run for president in elections late next year. "Here's Abdala, with grayer hair ... but crazier to break the soul of the Ecuadoran oligarchy."
His speech, delivered in the city center, was interrupted several times as about 20,000 supporters screamed and waved placards, one of which read: "Only God knows how much we've suffered in your absences."
Bucaram, known for his flamboyant style, served as president for only six months before he was removed from office by Congress in February 1997 for "mental incapacity." He fled the country and was granted political asylum in Panama soon after his ouster -- making it the third time he took refuge in Panama.
In September 1985, he spent two years in that country to avoid criminal defamation charges after he criticized Ecuador's armed forces as "being absolutely good for nothing if not spending money on parades." His second two-year flight from criminal charges came in 1988 when he was accused of misappropriating public funds while serving as Guayaquil's mayor.
His return is the latest in an unfolding political drama that has gripped this poverty-stricken country that is currently in the midst of a congressional battle for control of the judicial system.
In December, pro-government lawmakers fired 27 of the 31 Supreme Court judges in a simple majority vote -- a violation of the Constitution. That move, which led to the appointment of Castro as head of the high court, sparked massive protests by opposition figures who saw it as an attempt by current President Lucio Gutierrez to pack the court with supporters.
Guiterrez's opponents say he cut a deal with Bucaram to fire the judges, thereby opening the door for the cases against the former president to be dropped.
The Roldosista party, which Bucaram founded in 1982, provided crucial votes last year in Congress to block an impeachment effort against Gutierrez, a former army colonel who had served as Bucaram's military attache.
"The payoff for Bucaram's support of Gutierrez is this ruling," said Valerie Merino, leader of the opposition political group Citizen Participation.
Gutierrez has denied any deal took place.
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