On Thursday September 6th 2012, in Quito, the PRIAN political party leader, Alvaro Noboa, maintained an one hour conversation with the journalist Estéfani Espín, where they analyzed many aspects of Alvaro Noboa’s life.
Álvaro Noboa talked frankly about his childhood, education, academic achievements, business beginnings, and political persecution at the 70s. The journalist also asked about his personal and family relationships, where Noboa answered with much honesty. We invite you to hear about the first part of the interview:
The interview, because of its importance, was provided with an additional 15 minutes. In the second part, Espín asked Noboa about his actual political strategies and how he sees the actual state of the country.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: And, at this time in Notimundo we connect with you from Guayaquil where we find ourselves in the office of the Guayaquilian presidential candidate, businessman, founder of the New Humanity Crusade, son of Luis Noboa Naranjo and Isabel Pontón.
He studied at San José La Salle and then at the La Rosey School in Switzerland, the most expensive boarding school in the world, also known as the school of kings. He’s a lawyer and is very well known in Ecuadorian politics. We are going to get to know a bit more of the life of Álvaro Noboa Pontón. Welcome, and thank you for having us.
ÁLVARO NOBOA: Thank you very much. I see you ever day in the television, and listen to you as well on the radio. I have great admiration for you as a journalist.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: Thank you very much. In this meeting we are going to hold a somewhat more amenable conversation, not about politics, but to get to know a little more about our personality as we usually do. How does Álvaro remember his youth? How was growing up?
ÁLVARO NOBOA: Well, look, I am the son of Luis Noboa Naranjo and Isabel Pontón, we were six children, one of whom is dead now, Maria Leonor, so we are now five. The oldest was Lucho, Lucho is seven years older than me, then Isabel, who is five years older than me, then Diana at three or four years older than me, then me, then Maria Elena, who is one year younger, and Maria Leonor, who was seven years younger than me.
We lived – although by the time I was born my father was already a successful man in every sense and one of the richest in Ecuador – we lived where today the middle class, or upper middle class would live in Maldonado and Chile streets. There weren’t the big gardens or big patios, very close to what is now the Transit Commission, between the center and the Centenario neighborhood – so that you get, more or less, an idea – and I lived there my entire life until I became independent at 21, 22 years of age.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: Because you started working at 19?
ÁLVARO NOBOA: I worked from 19, but in order to go chronologically, very early one I had already had an orientation from my father, who treated me as an adult. He spoke to me about business as if he were speaking to any other adult. He very patiently explained everything and if for some reason I didn’t get it, he said it again and we developed a fantastic link. I admired him and I still admire him after his death. I also had a great loving relationship with my mother. She raised my self-esteem from when I was a small child, for example: I was the smallest person in my class when I was a child, I developed very late, but then became the size of more than half of my classmates. She motivated me, saying that Napoleon had been a very small man and that the women just died for him, and so I had hope that with the years I wasn’t going to have such a bad time with women, and effectively I married an extraordinary woman, Anabella Azín, good-looking, intelligent, spectacular.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: How did your father, Luis Noboa, mark your life. One can’t negate that he marked the history of this country, that he started working flat out, earning a living, ended up being the great Ecuadorian businessman who faced the big trans-nationals.
ÁLVARO NOBOA: Yes, I think that the base was knowledge and that, today, is thing of greatest value that a human being can have – I believe that – there are books today that say that the new power is no longer capital, but knowledge, and my father gave me knowledge in business, and the secret to business. Because in school, they teach you business academically, in a unreal and hypothetical manner that doesn’t occur in real life because real life is imperfect, and he, well, he taught me about all the imperfections of real life. He didn’t hide things from me, and that secret helped me a lot. Later, as I had that admiration, I was quite dazzled by my father, the only thing that I wanted to do was to please him. I have always admired David, King David, who is the father of Israel, that David was a good son and servant to his farther, a good citizen and the servant to King Saul, and later he was a good king and most important of all, he was a good child of God with a great love for God. So, maintaining the proper relative scale, I feel that that was the road that I chose from a very young child. I hold a great love of God, I feel like a child who is close to Him, to my father, to my mother and now to my country, and that I can serve them and love them with all my heart.
Well, I was so dazzled by my father because he was very generous and he spoiled me a lot. THey say that spoiled children are ruined and that they end up badly raised. But for me, the more they spoiled me, the more grateful I felt towards him. It got to a point at which I didn’t lose one point in one subject for the whole year, and in fourth grade I achieved 850/850, 10 medals of honor, 20 out of 20 for conduct. Roberto Gilbert Febres Cordero was like me, and today he’s one of the best Ecuadorian surgeons, or the best Ecuadorian surgeon, especially in the cardiovascular area.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: I’ve got a question. After having studied here in La Salle, you go to study in Switzerland, in a boarding school, the oldest school in Switzerland and considered the school of kings since many members of the royal families have studied there, they even don’t permit more than 10% of students from any one country. What was that great experience like, to study in the most expensive school in the world?
ÁLVARO NOBOA: Yes, it was at that time the most expensive school in the world, and until today, it continues being so. It’s called Le Rosey and they called it the school of kings and magnates. When I was 14 years old, Life magazine, which was the most important picture magazine in the United States, came to visit the school and to this very day in press photography history – there was editorial, obviously, but the magazine specialized in large format photos – and they took a photo of me alongside Kasavubu, the son of the President of the Belgian Congo, beside one of the Rockefeller’s. My classmates also included Niarchos, the famous shipping family, my roommate was King Faruk, and note that I’m not saying Prince Faruk, but King Faruk, because his father, due to the revolution begun by Nasser, renounced his position as king and had his son crowned when he was of age. After a year, Nasser refused to recognize him and King Faruk had to leave. That Faruk the second, who is there in the Encyclopedia Larousse, was my roommate. Over the years, I have also got an entry in the encyclopedia; I’m in Time Life Encyclopedia, I have it here, I can show it to you. I also appear in that encyclopedia when they talk of Ecuador.
At that time, I was impressed that my roommate already appeared in an encyclopedia and had been king. Many fellow students still come with me, to continue with the story, from September 28-30, a delegation of former Roseans comes to the country so that we introduce the future students; alumni like me, like Leonardo Stagg, who is also Ecuadorian, and Alfonso Andrade Peñaherrera. Later, over the years, other families went, and that school became an international fraternity. Every year it publishes a book with the addresses and phone numbers of each one of the students, so that when you go to Paris, you can call those alumni and they give you their attention, even if you weren’t in the same graduating year, and, of course, at that time, the school had the possibility to offer students skiing for two hours a day throughout the winter, and we had a chef, one who had won the award in Switzerland as one of the best in Switzerland and the world. And yes, it was a very enjoyable and comfortable life. I liked it best when I was 15 or 16 years old, and the school went co-educational. It was great because they chose the most intelligent women. Since everybody wanted to get into that school, they could give themselves the pleasure of looking for intelligence and beauty in a woman and so they chose women like yourself, like my wife, Anabella, beautiful, intelligent, and they took them into that school and so it was a very lovely relationship.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: It went from being a boy’s school to a co-educational boarding school and you had, without a doubt, great experiences during those years. Afterwards, Álvaro Noboa returns to Ecuador. Now, how was it at home. You breathed in the political atmosphere – I imagine – because your father was a great businessman, but he also, historically, took part in politics.
In this country, it has happened that the big companies always had a relationship to political power, this atmosphere allowed you to get to know, from very young, what the world of politics was like, to be in the parties with representatives. Your uncle, Enrique Ponce Luque, head of Bananera, was Minister of Defense with Velasco Ibarra, he was a Senator and he was a Representative. Nebot’s father was a friend of your father, he was always involved in the world of politics.
ÁLVARO NOBOA: I just want to finish with the school, that I left a cup that is still at the school and that is named after the fighter, or Le Coupe Louter, and it’s for those students who give their best effort to be at the top, and I think that that has accompanied me all my life: I have been a fighter all my life.
I continue to be dazzled, as much by your beauty as by your intelligence, for how you have studied my life, and what you have just said is correct: from when I was very young, I knew Camilo Ponce Enríquez, Dr. Caros Alberto Arroyo del Río, the lawyer Jaime Nebot Velasco, Jamie Nebot Saadí’s father, Enrique Ponce Luque, León Febres Cordero, Heinz Moeller, and an endless number of important politicians, but my father having had great political power has been exaggerated and it’s become a bit of a legend. He didn’t have as much as all that because even being friends with Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río, when the Revolution of May 28 occurred, my father became a fugitive, and was in hiding for three months because Velasco Ibarra and the leftist revolutionaries – remember Pedro Saad, the communist, and a whole series of important communists – were in pursuit of all who were friends of Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río, they were in pursuit of my father and my god-father, and a colleague of my father’s, Juan X Marcos, was imprisoned.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: He was practically your father’s protector?
ÁLVARO NOBOA: Look, just as you have studied, he was, effectively, like a second father to my father, because my grandmother became a widow, and my father was left an orphan, at 4 years old.
And so, at that time my father was also being pursued by the Military Junta in the 70s, that of Rodríguez Lara, you might remember, had a very strong leftist bent, they were saying that there had to be agrarian reform and they carried it out, that there had to be a socialist transformation and at the beginning it appeared as if they were going to copy the Peruvian Revolution which was terrible.
My father remained living in the United States and protecting himself from the persecution and one day they ‘disappeared’ me because they never presented an order for my capture in 1970, and they ‘disappeared’ me in September 1973 for 30 or 60 days, where I was interrogated, tortured, where they took me to a wall to kill me, but that’s when I realized that from being a timid child I had become a man who, at that stage, had lost, already at 22 years old, the greatest fear that there is: the fear of dying. And it didn’t matter to me at all. I was ready to fight against the world.
The same thing, in school, that I have to tell you: being the smallest and the son of a rich man, I had fights every day of the week, and I learned how to fight and I continue to fight when it is required, when a woman’s honor is offended or when a man wants to offend me, and my opponent’s size doesn’t matter. Well, my father was pursued by Velasco Ibarra, he was pursued by Asaad Bucaram, he was pursued by the greater part of the demagogue politicians. Later he had a very good relationship with Sixto Durán Ballén, and when León Febres Cordero became President, they only spoke on two occasions during his entire presidency, so that’s why I say that there’s a bit of legend about it.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: What did come out of that political contact is that you were able to see what politics was doing, or not doing, and to become more involved when you were President of the Federal Reserve in Abdalá Bucaram’s government. Bucaram leaves in ’97 and there are elections in ’98 and you decide, for the first time, to be a candidate for the PRE. What motivated you – in order to move forward in the life of Álvaro Noboa – to take that decision?
ÁLVARO NOBOA: You’ve jumped over an important part of my life. We were talking about the Le Rosey School. From there I went to study law, when I just turned 18, I was imprisoned when I was 22, and when I became President of the Federal Reserve, I was 46. We’ve taken a single leap of 24 years. So, in honor of that time, and of the time of the radio listeners, in that time I became an important businessman and when my father died, I was 44 years old in 1994, I was among the top 10 businessmen of the country.
How did I finance myself? I looked for the wealthy men of the time – Rodrigo Icaza, Sucre Pérez Baquerizo, Francisco Pino Emaulme – and I invited them to do business with me in exchange for them guaranteeing a bank loan for me. I gave them a return of 50% of the profit, and they were happy and I was happy, because without them I would not have been able to become one of the important men in the business world.
My key businesses at that time were in real estate. The Banco Literal, after that I established Financiera Gobal, I established the magazine La Verdad, and I founded the New Humanity Crusade Foundation. At 30 years old, I began, and still continue, to take part in the New York Stock Market – which is the businessman’s Olympics because it’s where the competition is the fiercest because the wealthiest and most intelligent people in the world are concentrated there, and so I had a spectacular experience. And from there I became an international businessman and from then on until the moment I turned 44, it is my regret that I only worked for my father for three years, because he was ill from ’84 to ’87. In ’87 he recuperated from his illness and he once again assumed the business. But it wasn’t because of the money that I was interested being by his side, but because I very much enjoyed his company and he gave me his office – which we still keep, here, in his memory – and then, when he was getting better he would visit me and he used the meeting room of his own office and I felt ashamed and I said to him, “No, here, this desk is yours, use it.” And he said, no, no, no and he sat in the meeting room.
When his health returned, I felt that I was superfluous and I left. He had already told me that the big company which I had wanted, which was the banana company, was not going to be mine, that it was going to go to another inheritor, which ended up being Mrs. Mercedes Santistevan, for the most part, from whom we bought the company later on. So, there I’ve given you a brief history of a long life.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: Before returning to the other, that is to say, that phase, that is to say, the death of your father, that you were successful in your work, that you could buy the stocks of Fruit Shippers, for examples, that you came to control the companies of Grupo Noboa, the Noboa companies, meant as well internal disputes in the family, court cases, millions of dollars in lawyers. How did that affect the family, your brothers, with the widow of your father to whom you referred to just now?
ÁLVARO NOBOA: It was a very amicable phase, because it was split according to an amicable agreement on all sides; on the part of Mrs. Mercedes Santistevan and my siblings.
On the part of Mrs. Mercedes Santistevan, there was litigation until an agreement was reached where she delivered the businesses in exchange for a significant amount of money. I thought that there was going to be peace and that my siblings each had what corresponded to them, but it didn’t end like that. And that was the very painful part of my life, as León Febres Cordero said: Men dance for silver; men and women dance for gold.
Then when various economic interests came into play, and our family, which had been so united – for instance, I had been very close to my sister, Isabel, and now not so much; with my sister, Maria Elena, we were only one year apart, but now we once again have an affectionate relationship; Maria Leonor became ill, she was my adored sister, I felt very protective of here and she was seven years younger than I, and being her protector, I stood up for her during her illness and also, therefore, sought to protect her interests – but from there comes, as I said, the phrase from León Febres Cordero, of one dancing for the other. One for silver, and the other for gold, and there were court cases of five hundred million dollars, and I won them all, and I have, like a medal, a decision by the judge in London where it says that I deserve total absolution of all the accusations and that he understood how I had got so far in life – because he looked very admiringly upon me – and that I had never lied during the trial and that my accusers had lied.
That was the only moment of rejoicing, the rest was a disagreeable campaign, including the campaign with Lucio Gutiérrez in 2002 during the campaign, the court in London accepted, via Skype, that a case was brought against me in order to not complicate my campaign. So I got up very early to attend the court via Skype and then from there to go out and campaign.
That affected me a lot in the 2002 campaign. The one from ’98 is in the books, it’s known. Coincidentally, in the Time Life encyclopedia it says that it is thought that I won the elections and that fraud was carried out against me. In 2002 I also made it to the second round and in 2006 I beat Correa in the first round – if you will remember it – I tell you that for the most part the journalists won’t even remember that. Just like Correa goes around telling the whole world that he never lost a election, he’s going to have to repeat that same lie to the people and at times he convinces them: Correa lost his only election against me.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: There were in your case, and there will be with the one in 2013, five attempts: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2009, and now what will be 2013, and many people say: being a successful man, and with the money you have, that you should have achieved what you wanted. Why the perseverance in wanting to become President of the Republic?
ÁLVARO NOBOA: Clearly, I have been blessed. Remember that among all the things that admired in David, and with which I identified, I am a lover of God and I feel like a much-loved child of his. He has given me health, marvelous children, a family. He has given me the capability to be the most important businessman in the country, of being President of the Federal Reserve. He has given me being an Assembly Member. He has given me the winning of the elections in ’98, and with so many blessings and so much love for the Ecuadorian people, I feel a commitment to God and to the Ecuadorian people in order to complete my most important mission, which is to get them out of poverty and to take them to where they will become a middle class like there is in Chile, like there is in the United States, like there is in many country across the world where they live, like you live, in a cement house, with a car, with a good education, with health care, with security, whether private security or neighborhood security.
Besides, they have earned that with a lot of effort. I would like that for all people, but for that, the people would have to do what you did: study a lot, work a lot. Surely you worked like I did, with double shifts, which I still do often, and that is what has put you in the position where you are in Ecuador and in the world.
For that right, that fortune that you and I have had, we should be able to achieve for many people, not just a few, and that is my mission. That the great number of Ecuadorians can achieve having a cement house, having healthcare, social security, education and security in their neighborhoods. For that, there are three things that have to happen: attract – don’t reject, like Economist Correa does – attract investment from the world over so that investors will come to a country where they are received with open arms. That is done by providing them judicial security and by lowering taxes. In that way, instead of going to London or to the United States, where there are higher taxes, they say, “I’m going to Ecuador where there is a little more risk, but the taxes are less.”
ESTEFANI ESPIN: Before going into those topics, on another occasion we had the opportunity to talk to you about that, we are going to finish this meeting, which is a bit more personal, with a question that I always ask my personalities at the end. How does Álvaro Noboa see himself in the next years, apart from the Presidency? What more would he like to be, or what is left for him to do?
ÁLVARO NOBOA: I’ve got being a musician ahead of me. I believe that what’s missing is becoming a rock star. If I don’t become a rock star now, because of my age, I would love to make a bit of music later on.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: Álvaro Noboa Pontón, and knowing something more of your life here, tonight, in Notimundi, thank you very much for having been with us.
ÁLVARO NOBOA: Thank you very much and, once again, I would like to express my admiration for your capabilities, your beauty and for the great journalist that you are.
ESTEFANI ESPIN: Thank you very much, and a good night to you, and until soon.