Alvarito, the evader


Álvaro Noboa is the richest man in Ecuador. His fortune, apparently not amassed through honest means, is now weighting down on him, and his attempts to launder it through politics have so far been fruitless



Abdala Bucaram, that character who in 1996 was elected President of Ecuador, after appealing to voters by loudly singing along with the Uruguayan folk group Los Iracundos throughout his campaign, only to be removed from office by Parliament six months later on “mental disability” grounds, without the need for a medical report to back the accusation, helped Noboa challenge the will of the late Luis Noboa Naranjo, who had passed away in 1994. At the time, Noboa was known simply as Alvarito and was chairman of the Currency Board under Bucaram’s administration.


In his will, Don Luis had instructed that his second wife, Mercedes Santistevan, was to take over management of the Group’s most important company, the banana business. But Alvarito, aided by Bucaram’s complicity, successfully went against his father’s decision and was able to secure control of the company, investing nearly 20 million dollars in court actions and swindling his siblings. In November 2002, a London judge ruled that Alvarito had legitimately inherited the 50.1 percent interest in the banana business, owning shares that at the time were worth 300 million dollars.


Word has it that that’s when his guilty conscience kicked in, stirring up his hopes that by winning a high political office he would wipe the slate clean, or, at the very least, make everyone forget the origin of his fortune. Alvarito first ran for President of the Republic in 1998 –a year after he’d taken control of the Noboa Group–, running again in 2002 and 2006, but in all three elections he was unable to win the support of the majority of Ecuadorians. In the 1998 elections he was candidate of the Partido Roldosista Ecuatoriano, while in the following two he ran under his own party, the Partido Renovador Institucional de Acción Nacional (PRIAN).


During the 2002 electoral campaign, serious incidents were reported in his Los Álamos banana plantation, which resulted in workers being critically injured by thugs who were on the candidate/businessman’s payroll (see article: Love in the time of Álvaro Noboa). Also in that year, the organization Human Rights Watch denounced widespread child labor in Noboa’s banana plantations. These two irregularities were picked up and covered by the influential newspaper The New York Times. In 2005, again in the midst of the electoral race, it was revealed that 99 companies registered in Ecuador’s Ministry of Labor did not actually exist and were used by the Noboa Group to evade labor obligations. In addition, that same year the government shut down Elaborados de Café –another one of Noboa’s companies– for failing to furnish the documentation required to prove it was meeting its tax obligations. The government also discovered that Frutería Jambeli Frujasa –property of Noboa– owed almost 20 million dollars in taxes. Other companies of the Group were found to have tax debts as well. This was the case of Industrial Molinera (2.4 million dollars in debt), Compañía Nacional de Plásticos (1.1 million dollars), and Manufacturas de Cartón (3.1 million dollars). Attorney Sylka Sánchez, Álvaro Noboa’s right hand in his companies and a national representative elected under PRIAN for several terms –with a behavior more fitting of a cheap cabaret star than of a congresswoman– spoke against these audits, branding them as blackmail, admitting that the existence of debts was only disclosed after Noboa refused to form a coalition in Parliament with then President Lucio Gutiérrez.


If all of this weren’t enough, Noboa was fined in over 2 million dollars for almost doubling the maximum amount allowed for electoral expenses in 2002, and right now he’s facing a suit brought against him in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which is demanding that he pay a 6.3 million dollar fine for exceeding campaign expenses before the 2006 election.


As a leopard cannot shed his spots, now Noboa is about to lose his seat in the Constituent Assembly for failing to submit an affidavit disclosing his assets. Of the 130 Constituent Assembly members, only Noboa refused to comply with this measure. His wife, Anabella Azín –who is also an Assembly member and handed in her affidavit– declared that her husband did not present the required document for fear that they would invent a crime against him so they could arrest him. At a press conference, according to information posted on PRIAN’s official website, Mrs. Azín said: “This Assembly is ridden with envy, it is ridden with hatred, this Assembly is out for revenge, seeking to stir up a fight and pit Ecuadorians against each other. With these feelings guiding the National Constituent Assembly there’s no telling what they could do (sic) with an affidavit disclosing Álvaro Noboa’s assets. We want the Ecuadorian people to clearly fix in their memories what’s happening right now and to remember that unfortunately the country just doesn’t have the constitutional guarantees (sic again) that allow individuals to defend themselves against attacks and persecution.”  


To complicate Alvarito’s life even more, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, announced last December 17 that he would abolish “outsourcing” in Ecuador, a practice that, as is common knowledge, strips workers of their labor rights. “The new constitution will ban this ploy,” the President declared.


A government that seeks to make businessmen pay taxes and on top of that vows to do away with outsourcing in no way fits the concept of democracy upheld by Álvaro Noboa and businessmen of his sort.



From Montevideo, Enildo Iglesias


January 23, 2008

Enildo Iglesias





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