Anacleto Angelini

Chilean forestry billionaire
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The Independent Online

Anacleto Angelini Fabbri, businessman: born Ferrara, Italy 19 January 1914; married 1959 María Noseda Zambra; died Santiago 28 August 2007.

The Italian-born Anacleto Angelini prospered under Mussolini, backed another military dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, in his adopted Chile and died the second wealthiest man in Latin America. To environmentalists and human-rights groups around the world, however, he was best known as founder of Chile's modern forestry industry, one of the oligarchs seen to be destroying the rainforests for massive profit while trampling on the rights of the poor, notably the indigenous Mapuche people.

Forbes magazine listed Angelini this year as worth $6bn, second in Latin America only to the Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú. Despite being Chile's first-ever billionaire, however, he kept the lowest of profiles, living in a relatively modest apartment in Santiago with his wife, spurning bodyguards, hailing his own taxis and often sitting alone at the bar of the café Paula or with his wife in the Due Torri Italian restaurant.

Fellow businessmen, bankers and many politicians praised the man they respectfully called "Don Cleto" as a stalwart of the new, prosperous Chile and a creator of wealth, the income of his many companies, including wood pulping, representing a key slice of national income. Opponents noted, however, that he got seriously rich only after the coup d'état which brought Pinochet to power and killed the democratically elected Marxist president Salvador Allende in Chile's "9/11" – September 11 1973. They described Angelini as a "looter of the nation".

Pinochet privatised state companies operating in forest land previously considered as belonging to Mapuche natives' farm cooperatives. Friends of the General were able to snap up the companies at bargain prices, quickly expanding their chopping and pulping with no government or environmental controls, at the same time robbing the Mapuche of their livelihood from hunting and fishing, a potentially lethal threat to their civilisation within a matter of decades. Mapuche taken on as pulp labourers were paid slave wages despite soaring profits.

In June this year, Angelini's company Celco had to close one of its plants after large numbers of fish were found poisoned by toxic waste presumed to have come from a pulp plant. The company was earlier blamed by environmentalists for the deaths and migration of many black-necked swans from the Cruces river in 1994.

Several Mapuche and other pulp-mill workers who demonstrated against miserable pay have been shot dead by police in recent years. Last month, Celco offered big cash pay-offs and perks to Mapuche ocean fishermen on the Pacific coast to turn a blind eye to a proposed new duct to take waste from the Valdivia mill to the Pacific. After protesting for years over similar developments, they were unlikely to accept.

Anacleto Angelini Fabbri was born, eldest of three brothers, in the historic Italian town of Ferrara in 1914. After he emigrated to Chile in 1948 he revealed little of his experiences under Mussolini but was known to have been in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) soon after it was invaded in 1935 and annexed by Mussolini's forces. Opponents in Chile accused him of being part of Mussolini's army but he insisted he had studied engineering in Eritrea, then an Italian colony, moved to Abyssinia to start up a business after its annexation by Italy and had been put into a "concentration camp" – presumably referring to a camp for enemy nationals – by the Allies during the Second World War.

Arriving in Santiago in 1948, aged 34, he quickly became part of the Italian community, many of them fugitives from Allied justice. He started off with a paint factory before moving into insurance, construction, agriculture, banking, fish-processing and eventually, towards the end of Pinochet's dictatorship, the lucrative forestry industry.

Angelini's group owned Copec (Compañía de Petróleos de Chile), the country's largest oil company and filling-station chain, and Celco (Celulosa Arauco y Constitucíon SA, known worldwide as Arauco), Chile's largest producer of cellulose. President Eduardo Frei gave Angelini Chilean citizenship by decree in 1994, when the businessman was already 80, "out of gratitude" for his role in rebuilding the economy.

Last year, the Chilean branch of Greenpeace gave Angelini its Condorazo prize for what they called the ecological disasters his pulp mills had created. The award, named after a cartoon character and meaning something like "fool", was handed in to one of his Celco offices by a man and two women dressed as devils.

Phil Davison