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It's being called the biggest default in Latin American history. Eike Batista was once Brazil's richest man, worth an estimated $34 billion. And he wasn't modest about his ambition for more. This was him in an interview in 2011.
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CORNISH: But last night, it all came crashing down. Batista's oil company filed for bankruptcy, imploding his empire. And now, he's worth about 1 percent of what he had only a year ago. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us now from Sao Paulo to talk about Batista's rise and fall. And to start, Lourdes, tell us a little bit about him. Who is he?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: He was really a larger-than-life figure here. He had the cars, the boats, he's a speedboat racer; the wife, she was a former Playboy model. He was the richest man in Brazil, and he was everywhere. Dilma Rousseff, the president, only 18 months ago called him our standard and, above all, the pride of Brazil when it comes to a businessman in the private sector. He would fly journalists and investors in his private aircraft to see the megaport he was building. He was accessible, quotable, a Twitter fiend. Everyone knew him.
CORNISH: And we have a sense of how he spent his money. But how did he make it?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He comes from money. His father was a government minister. But he is also a self-made man and he made a lot of that. He started off prospecting in the Amazon for gold, and then he rode the wave of the commodities boom here. He was into real estate, all sorts of things. But his crowning jewel was his oil company.
He promised great things, a megaport to take in the millions of barrels of oil he would be pumping from beneath the sea. But those barrels of oil didn't materialize, and that's when the bottom started falling out of his empire. As one editorial put it, everything was a house of cards. As you mentioned, he's lost 99 percent of his fortune by some estimates.
CORNISH: And he's also been called the face of Brazil's boom. Why is that?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, he talked himself up as much as he talked Brazil up. He claimed Brazil was going to become the third biggest economy in the world. And as we heard, he said he was going to become the richest man. People, the media, bought into it. And as we rise, I guess so do we fall. So now, Eike has become the face of something else: Brazil's failure to make good on its promise, its slowing economy. His Icarus-like fall is being discussed as a symbol of all that's wrong with the Brazilian economy today.
CORNISH: But how is it being seen in Brazil and maybe elsewhere in the region?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, people build you up and then they tear you down. And we've seen that story play over and over across the globe. At his zenith, he was a darling. He could do no wrong. And the Brazilian government had a big part to play in his success - easy credit, contracts. But now, everyone blames him for what they once celebrated him for, namely his big talk and his can-do spirit.
A lot of people are asking what's next for Batista. Well, he says there will be a comeback, that he's not finished, that he has a lot of companies that still have a great deal of potential, that he has many other deals in the works. But he has a lot of creditors and he's being sued. So a lot of analysts say it's going to be a tough road ahead for Mr. Batista.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Lourdes, thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
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