Is Daniel Noboa the answer to Ecuador’s need for change? | ET REALITY


For generations, the Noboa family has helped shape Ecuador, overseeing a vast economic empire, including fertilizers, plastics, cardboard, the country’s largest container storage facility and, most famously, a gigantic banana business featuring one of the most recognized fruit brands in the world, Bonita. .

However, one notable position has eluded them: the presidency. On five occasions, the head of the family conglomerate, Álvaro Noboa, ran for president and lost, in one case by two percentage points.

On Sunday, the Noboas could finally win their presidency. Noboa’s son, Daniel Noboa, 35, a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School who has used the same campaign jingle as his father, is the leading candidate in a runoff election. His opponent is Luisa González, the hand-picked candidate of former President Rafael Correa, who defeated Noboa Sr. in 2006.

The legacy of the banana company – and Daniel Noboa’s association with it – is just one aspect of an election that focuses on issues of employment and security in this country of 17 million people on the western coast of South America, which has been shaken by the extraordinary power acquired by the drug trafficking industry in the last five years.

International criminal groups working with local gangs have unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence that has forced tens of thousands of Ecuadorians to flee to the US-Mexico border, part of a wave of migration that has overwhelmed the Biden administration.

Noboa unexpectedly rose from the bottom of the polls to second place in the first round of the presidential election in August, helped, experts say, by a widely praised debate performance and the reversal of the race by the shocking murder of another candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, days before the vote.

Noboa has galvanized a base of frustrated voters thanks to a campaign that promises change.

“He has been able to say that ‘I represent renewal in Ecuador,’” said Caroline Ávila, an Ecuadorian political analyst. “And that’s why people are buying his message.”

Sunday’s election pits Noboa, a center-right businessman, against González, 45, a leftist establishment candidate, at a time of deep anxiety in a country that was once a relatively peaceful island in a violent region.

Noboa, who declined several interview requests, has had a consistent lead in multiple polls since August, although it has narrowed slightly in recent days.

He has positioned himself as a “jobs president,” even including a job application form on his website, and has promised to attract international investment and trade and reduce taxes.

His opponent, Ms. González, has promised to tap central bank reserves to stimulate the economy and increase funding for the public health system and public universities.

On security, both candidates have talked about providing more money for the police and deploying the army to protect ports used to smuggle drugs out of the country and prisons, which are controlled by violent gangs.

González’s close association with Correa has helped raise her political profile, but it has also hurt her among some voters.

His first-round finish was boosted by a strong base of voters nostalgic for the low homicide rates and commodity boom that lifted millions out of poverty during Correa’s administration. González’s campaign motto in the first round was “we already did it and we will do it again.”

But harnessing that support is a challenge. Correa’s authoritarian style and his accusations of corruption deeply divided the country. He lives in exile in Belgium, fleeing a prison sentence for campaign finance violations, and many Ecuadorians fear that a González presidency will pave the way for him to return and run for office again.

Daniel Noboa is part of the third generation of his family that today operates an expanding business, but whose roots were in agriculture.

The Noboa family’s rise to prominence and wealth began with Luis Noboa, Daniel’s grandfather, who was born into poverty in 1916, but began building his business empire in the second half of the 20th century exporting bananas and other crops.

His death in 1994 sparked a bitter court battle on three continents between his wife and children for control of the business that finally ended in 2002, when a London judge awarded Alvaro Noboa a 50 percent stake in the family holding company.

Álvaro expanded the company internationally while also fighting multiple legal battles over back taxes and disputed payments to shipping companies.

As a politician, he described himself as a “messiah of the poor,” handing out free computers and handfuls of dollars at his rallies while fending off accusations of child labor, worker mistreatment and union busting in his banana business. (He has claimed that the accusations were politically motivated.)

His son, Daniel, grew up in the port city of Guayaquil, where he founded an events promotion company when he was 18, before moving to the United States to study at New York University. He later became commercial director of the Noboa Corporation and earned three more degrees, including a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

He successfully ran for Ecuador’s Congress in 2021, positioning himself as a pro-business legislator, until President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the legislature in May and called for early elections.

Noboa has promoted a more leftist platform, criticizing the banking industry and calling for more social spending.

A Harvard classmate and close friend of Noboa, Mauricio Lizcano, a senior official in Colombia, described the candidate as someone “who respects diversity and respects women, who believes in social issues” but who is also “orthodox in economics.” and business”. ‘

Still, Noboa has not raised social issues during the election campaign, and his running mate, Verónica Abad, is a right-wing business consultant who has spoken out against abortion, feminism and LGBTQ rights and has expressed support for Donald J. Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, former far-right president of Brazil.

Abad is “a really strange choice for someone like Noboa who is trying to transcend this kind of left-right divide,” said Guillaume Long, senior political analyst at the Center for Economic and Political Research and former Ecuadorian foreign minister during the Trump government. Belt.

Despite his family pedigree, Noboa has tried to differentiate himself, noting that he has his own business and that his personal wealth is valued at less than $1 million.

Although Álvaro frequently referred to Correa as a “communist devil,” his son has avoided directly attacking “Correismo.”

“I never voted for his father, but this guy has a different aura, new blood, a new way of thinking,” said Enrique Insua, a 63-year-old retiree in Guayaquil. “He is charismatic.”

But like his father, Daniel has also drawn criticism from analysts who fear he could use the presidency to advance the family’s numerous businesses.

“Whether it’s manufacturing, services or agriculture, everything is under their control in one way or another,” said Grace Jaramillo, a political science professor and Ecuador expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

“There is no economic policy issue that does not affect, for better or worse, any of its companies,” he added. “It is a permanent conflict of interest.”

Ecuador’s economy was devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and only 34 percent of Ecuadorians have adequate employment, according to government data.

Beyond the economy, the country goes to the polls during what may have been the most violent election season in its history.

In addition to Villavicencio, who spoke openly about what he claimed were links between organized crime and the government, five other politicians have been murdered this year. Last week, seven men accused of killing Villavicencio were found dead in prison.

Lasso, the outgoing president, called for early elections to avoid impeachment over allegations of embezzlement and widespread voter anger over the government’s inability to stop the bloodshed.

With newspaper reports regularly featuring beheadings, car bombs and police killings, Noboa and González have promised to curb the violence, although neither has made security a central part of their campaigns.

Ms. González, during a presidential debate, noted the arrests of several criminal gang leaders when she served in the Correa administration.

“We will have the same iron fist with those who have declared war on the Ecuadorian State,” he stated.

Noboa has proposed the use of technology, such as drones and satellite tracking systems, to curb drug trafficking and has suggested building prison ships to isolate the most violent inmates.

But analysts say the two candidates have not done enough to prioritize the fight against crime that has destabilized Ecuador and turned it into one of the most violent countries in Latin America.

“Neither Luisa González nor especially Noboa seem to have a big plan on security or emphasize it,” said Will Freeman, a researcher in Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US research institute. “It’s like politics is frozen in an era before all this happened.”

Thalie Ponce contributed reports from Guayaquil, Ecuador, and José María León Cabrera from Quito, Ecuador.

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