Daniel Noboa's Wife Halts Construction of Luxury Resort in Protected Ecuadorian Forest

Decision made to prevent opponents from exploiting the project for political gainThe company overseen by Lavinia Valbonesi, the wife of Ecuador's pres...

Decision made to prevent opponents from exploiting the project for political gain

The company overseen by Lavinia Valbonesi, the wife of Ecuador's president, has announced the suspension and cancelation of a real estate venture involving the construction of four upscale buildings within the protected surroundings of Esterillo de Oloncito, an area encircled by a mangrove-lined forest that falls under Ecuador's conservation laws. This natural haven rests along the Pacific coast.

Members of the Oloncito community intervened five days after attempts to clear the forest for resort development were initiated, prompting the recent decision by Vinazin S.A. The company declared, "We cannot allow our operations to spark chaos within the region or be manipulated for political motives." President Daniel Noboa echoed similar sentiments, suggesting that his adversaries sought to tarnish him by scrutinizing his spouse's business activities.

The retreat from the project occurred once it garnered public attention and local residents mobilized. Criticism over the felling of 21 carob trees and the deployment of law enforcement prompted operators to vacate the premises by Wednesday. Presidential Communications Secretary Irene Vélez employed comparable reasoning to elucidate the project's abandonment. "Certain political factions were intent on using this as a perpetual pawn. Sustaining this endeavor seemed increasingly futile," she conveyed on Teleamazonas.

"The project's termination also signifies the retraction of employment offers for approximately 2,783 local individuals," as outlined in a statement by Vinazin S.A., founded by Noboa in 2016. Construction timelines were initially estimated at around two years.

The territory designated for the seaside complex, as affirmed by Andrea Fiallos, Director of the Iguana Foundation engaged in environmental preservation, has long been in possession of the Noboa family. Erosion due to the El Niño event of 1983 altered the mangrove landscape, prompting endeavors to reclaim lost land by infilling portions of the estuary. Concerns amongst Oloncito's populace stemmed from the potential implications of impeding the estuary's water drainage, vital during winter, that creates a forceful current running across the Chongón-Colonche mountain range towards Oloncito. Subtracting the estuary could lead to flooding and potential disappearance, mirroring occurrences in various regions across the nation.

President Noboa confirmed the commencement of a probe by public prosecutors into the matter, albeit without specifying the nature of the allegations, following customary discretion. Alongside the president's spouse, multiple government officials, including Environment Minister Sade Fritschi, faced scrutiny for their involvement. Fritschi, a 26-year-old minister critiqued for her limited experience, was summoned before a parliamentary body to elucidate the approval process. However, Committee President Guido Vargas obstructed queries directed at Fritschi by lawmakers and journalists. Consequently, the National Assembly declined to close the case as the administration had intended.

A delegation of legislators, predominantly from opposition ranks, journeyed to Oloncito to seek clarifications from local authorities. Santa Elena Mayor María del Carmen Aquino revealed that Vinazin S.A. sought local approval in June 2023 to encircle the property. However, municipal records vetoed the initiative citing the protected status of Esterillo de Oloncito within a natural reserve. The company expressed intentions to appeal to the Ministry of Environment, yet only secured a permit in December 2023, coinciding with Daniel Noboa's assumption of office.

The company revisited Oloncito in January armed with permits, still lacking essential requisites like environmental impact assessments and provincial licenses, as outlined by Mayor Aquino. Despite assertions by Vinazin S.A. insisting compliance with environmental laws, forest inventories, and legal prerequisites, tangible evidence to corroborate these claims remains absent. Attempts to seek comment from the company were unsuccessful.

15 May 2024 - 15:49 - Business

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