(Bloomberg) -- Mario Lopez Estrada, Guatemala’s first billionaire, has died. He was 84.
His family said he passed of natural causes in a statement on the website of Grupo Onyx, a conglomerate established by the billionaire with ventures in areas from real estate to energy.
Lopez, a former minister, made his fortune after the privatization of Guatemala’s state telecommunications monopoly began in the 1980s, when most cities in the country didn’t have a single working phone. He cashed out of a partnership with carrier Millicom International Cellular SA in 2021 for $2.2 billion. His largely self-made fortune was an exception in a region where most wealth is inherited.
“I am somewhat affluent,” Lopez said in a 2014 interview, when he first reached an agreement with Millicom for the potential transaction of his stake. “What’s important is to not stay in the comfort zone.”
In an early step to privatize phone operations, Guatemala granted Comunicaciones Celulares SA a 20-year concession, handing it a monopoly in exchange for sharing profits with the government. In 1993, Lopez left his post as communications minister under President Vinicio Cerezo and bought his first stake in the firm, known as Comcel, subsequently increasing it to 45%.
The company held its monopoly position until 1999, when Telgua, owned by billionaire Carlos Slim’s America Movil SAB, and Madrid-based Telefonica SA entered the market.
Lopez’s grandfather, dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, ruled Guatemala for 22 years before he was overthrown in a 1920 armed revolt. He sought to modernize the country’s railroads and other infrastructure by granting concessions to US banana exporter United Fruit Co.
Lopez’s son, Mario, is Grupo Onyx’s chief executive officer, while his daughters Mariana and Gabriela are on the conglomerate’s board.
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