Latin American politicians with unorthodox backgrounds

In certain parts of Latin America, unlike the rest of the world, the paths to becoming a mayor, senator or president are quite different and have been ignored. 

In much of the world, the paths to becoming a mayor, senator or president are few and well-marked. Enter politics as a youngster or have family connections to existing politicians, make a name for yourself inside a party, work on the campaigns or in the offices of elected figures, learn the craft and then run for office yourself.

In much of Latin America, however, these paths have often been ignored. Athletes, comedians and priests have all found fame in their respective areas before leapfrogging into a stellar career in politics.

1. Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Mayor of Cuernavaca, Mexico (2015-)
Arguably the greatest Mexican footballer of all time, Cuauhtemoc Blanco wowed crowds at three world cups, France 1998, South Korea-Japan 2020 and South Africa 2010. Over the course of 120 appearances for the Mexican national team, he scored 39 goals. He also became known for his signature trick, named the Cuauhtemiña, where he would trap the football between his feet and hop with it between two defending players. On the home front, Blanco played for 15 years at one of Mexico's most beloved clubs, America, where he became an idol to fans.

After playing his last game for Mexico in 2014 against Israel, Blanco joined the Social Democratic Party in January 2015 and ran as its candidate to become Mayor of Cuernavaca, a city of 350,000 people and the capital of the southern state of Morelos. He became mayor after a tight race in June 2015.

2. Mauricio Funes, President of El Salvador (2009-2014)
The former president of El Salvador (2009-2014) did not originally choose to help his country in politics but in the media. After his older brother was killed by police in a 1980 student protest, Funes focused on literature and communication, first becoming a journalist in 1986. He first became a national figure in 1987 when he became a political commentator for Channel 12 in the middle of the El Salvadoran civil war. Funes was known for an anti-government attitude, including carrying out interviews with guerrilla leaders. Alongside his work on Channel 12, he also became a well-known correspondent for CNN.

In 2007, Funes was named as the presidential candidate for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), one of the parties formed out of guerrilla groups that took part in the civil war. After campaigning on a platform of social reform, Funes won the presidential election in March 2009, with 51.3 percent of the vote.

3. Fernando Lugo, President of Paraguay (2008-2012)
Fernando Lugo began his career in an institution that very rarely sees people jump to democratic politics: the Catholic Church. After teaching in a religious, rural part of Paraguay, Lugo was inspired to join the seminary. He completed his training and became a priest in 1977. After working as a missionary in Ecuador for five years, he returned to Paraguay but was soon cast out of the country in 1983 for angering the political junta of Alfredo Stroessner. After studying in Rome, he became the Bishop of San Pedro, one of Paraguay's poorest regions, in 1994.

Lugo served in San Pedro for over a decade but his political aspirations took over in 2005 when he asked the Vatican for laicization, or his removal as a member of the clergy. The Vatican refused his request and forbade him from running for office. Ignoring these instructions, Lugo campaigned for farmers in Paraguay to benefit from a re-distribution of land. This brought him to the attention of opposition parties. In 2007, he joined the Christian Democratic Party, which led the Patriotic Alliance for Change, for whom Lugo won the presidency in 2008.

4. Jimmy Morales, President-elect of Guatemala
If entering politics from the media or the clergy is rare, doing so from comedy is far rarer. Born in Guatemala City, Morales first rose to public fame as a comedian. With his brother, Sammy, Morales created a TV show named Moralejas, which was on the air for over 15 years. He also had a career as a film actor, acting in the 2011 film Fe, directed by Alejo Crisostomo.

Morales first dabbled in politics by running for the mayor of the town of Mixco, but finished third with just 7.95 percent of votes. In 2012, he joined the National Convergence Front part and stood as a presidential candidate in 2015. Although seen as an outsider, a series of political scandals in Guatemala saw his star rise until he won the presidential election in October 2015.

5. Abdala Bucaram, President of Ecuador (1996-1997)
Although Abdala Bucaram would become known for his short stint as President of Ecuador, a position from which he was impeached for being unfit to rule, he had a past as a successful athlete and sports personality. After being kicked out of medical school for brawling with a professor, Bucaram developed his athletic career. He showed particular skill as a hurdler and represented Ecuador in the discipline at the 1972 Munich Olympics, one of only three Ecuadoreans to make the trip. He was also South American champion for the 400 meters.

During his time as President, he also became the president of Barcelona Sporting Club in the city of Guayaquil, of which he was also the mayor. Nevertheless, Bucaram's sporting success did not carry over to politics and he was impeached a year into his presidency for mental incompetence amid mass protests over his economic and privatization plans.

6. Michel Martelly, President of Haiti (2011-)
The energetic and charismatic Michel Martelly first found success as one of Haiti's most famous singers, under the name "Sweet Micky". A keen singer and keyboard player, Martelly specialized in compas music, a Haitian musical genre sung in Creole French, related to meringue. His success saw him collaborate internationally with the likes of Wyclef Jean. His career was also helped by the fact that compas was the only style of music allowed under the brutal rule of the Duvalier family. His links to Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former Haitian dictator known as "Baby Doc", made Martelly a controversial figure at home. He even spent a year away from Haiti in 1995 after Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a political opponent of Duvalier, rose to power.

Although Martelly was engaged politically in the 1990s and 2000s, opposing the rule of Aristide and campaigning for better HIV awareness, he fully entered politics when he ran for president in 2010. Although an outsider, he ran a victorious campaign, pledging to do away with decades of corruption and to help the country rebuild after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

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