On Oct. 15, Ecuador’s presidential runoff will pit Daniel Noboa, the 35-year-old heir to a banana empire, against Luisa Gonzalez, 45, a political protege of ex-President Rafael Correa. It’s deja vu, politics-style: In the 2006 presidential runoff, Alvaro, Daniel’s father, lost to Correa by a two-digit margin.
(Bloomberg) — On Oct. 15, Ecuador’s presidential runoff will pit Daniel Noboa, the 35-year-old heir to a banana empire, against Luisa Gonzalez, 45, a political protege of ex-President Rafael Correa. It’s deja vu, politics-style: In the 2006 presidential runoff, Alvaro, Daniel’s father, lost to Correa by a two-digit margin.
Now, in a stunning surprise, Daniel can avenge his wealthy father — a six-time presidential contender — in what’s become the country’s most dramatic election in decades. “All the people who want to see change have prevailed,” Noboa said on Sunday night.
Daniel vaulted from sixth to second place after the shocking murder of fellow candidate Fernando Villavicencio on Aug. 10. He has pledged to tame cocaine cartels, who have helped make Ecuador one of the world’s most murderous countries, and bolster the economy with his pro-market prescriptions.
Santiago Basabe, a professor at FLACSO University in Quito, said Noboa could beat Gonzalez by eight to 10 points. “He has got it a lot easier than Gonzalez,” he said.
Read More: Ecuador Runoff to Pit Correa’s Pick Against Businessman
A representative for Noboa declined to comment or make him available for an interview.
Elite and pugnacious
A product of the Ecuadorian coastal elite and the recipient of a master’s degree from Harvard, Daniel spent his early years working for Noboa Trading, his father’s company.
It’s a thriving business. In the first half of 2023, Noboa Trading became Ecuador’s number three banana exporter, sending abroad 8.4 million 18.14-kilogram boxes of the fruit, according to trade association data.
Noboa Trading also owns fertilizer, chocolate, transportation and plastics companies, among others.
In 2021 Daniel won a seat in congress, representing the beach resort and oil industry province of Santa Elena. One of two representatives of his party, he became president of the congressional Economic Development Committee, which drafted legislation on sectors like fintech and small business.
Noboa has not shied away from challenging President Guillermo Lasso.
Last year, Noboa led a congressional delegation to Russia, openly defying Lasso’s pro-Ukraine stance. And in March, Noboa called on Lasso to dissolve congress after it blocked, for the second time, a bill that would have boosted private-sector investment. Noboa was also one of the 104 lawmakers to back an effort to remove Lasso from office that month.
Lasso ended up closing the parliament two months later and calling for the current snap elections, in which he declined to participate.
A fresh candidate
In May, Noboa jumped into the presidential race, billing himself as a center-left, pro-business leader who’d been tough on crime without aping the tactics of Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s strongman leader.
Noboa managed to distinguish himself from two rivals who also hail from wealthy backgrounds. (The press dubbed them the Sambo Triplets, after a wealthy Ecuadorian suburb.)
He’s garnered the support of women voters, and an endorsement from Marlon “Chito” Vera, a popular mixed martial artist who Noboa supported early in his career. On Monday, campaign rival Jan Topic said he would vote for Daniel.
As the runoff approaches, his economic platform will draw closer scrutiny. Noboa wants to develop Ecuador’s oil industry, especially its refining sector. But he has yet to explain how he would finance this effort.
Yet he also endorsed a recent referendum to curtail oil drilling in the Amazon: Its heavy crude, he contends, fetches too low of a margin to bring in much revenue — a claim the state oil company rejects. “The possibility of pollution exceeds the possibility of earning real money,” Noboa has said.
Read More: Ecuadorians Opt to Restrict Oil and Mining Ahead of Runoff Vote
He’s likely to continue benefitting from Gonzalez’s failure to extend her appeal beyond those nostalgic for Correa, whose spending drained Ecuador’s coffers. Two-thirds of voters in the first round picked other candidates — almost all of them more conservative than her.
And while Correa largely kept violent crime down, Mexican drug cartels spread into Ecuador under his watch, laying the groundwork for their current bloody turf wars.
In a campaign marked by tough talk on crime, Noboa did not promise aggressive reforms. Days after Villavicencio’s assassination, he was the only candidate to wear a bulletproof vest during a presidential debate.
While Google searches on Noboa’s name spiked after the debate, it’s unclear what role his performance played in getting him into the runoff.
“He may be the candidate who captured the youth vote, as a fresh candidate more similar to them, with a clear discourse easier to understand,” Basabe said.
Despite the fact that the Noboa name is synonymous with presidential campaigns Daniel appears poised to forge his own legacy.
In May, days after Daniel had entered the presidential race, Alvaro posted a video on Instagram announcing his candidacy. Old habits die hard: He has run a record six times.
Hours later, the video was deleted.
After Daniel qualified for the runoff, Alvaro released a statement commending Daniel for continuing “the noble purpose that we have have as a family.”
But Daniel has shot down any claims that he is following his father’s dreams. Winning the presidency, he insists, is a dream all his own.
“Thanks to God I don’t have any remaining dreams of more economic growth, instead I want to help the country,” Daniel said in an interview with local media last month.
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