Andrés Duarte’s path to being honored by the British monarchy last summer began during a nine-hour trans-Atlantic flight in the late 1980s. He was returning to Caracas, Venezuela, from a business trip to London and was seated near executives from the British firm Thomas De La Rue, one of the oldest security printing companies in the world, on their way to the South American nation to seek representation there.
Duarte secured an interview and later, their business. His trading company Duarte Vivas & Associates handled imports for De La Rue until Venezuela’s economy crashed in 2010.
Duarte is a Life Trustee at Ohio Wesleyan, where he majored in geology and minored in economics. In March, it was announced that he would be the keynote speaker for the University’s 173rd commencement ceremony on May 13.
Duarte recalls being astonished and honored to be named Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), the order of chivalry of the British constitutional monarchy. According to the official website of the British government, the OBE can be awarded to a civilian “for having a major local role in any activity, including people whose work has made them known nationally in their chosen area.”
Duarte’s announcement states: “For services to British exports.” “I’m very proud of it, and at the same time I was shell shocked,” he says.
He was contacted by the British ambassador in Caracas in June and told he had been nominated for the award by several British citizens who work with diplomats and companies in Venezuela. In November, he received confirmation. Plans for a trip to London were scuttled when Queen Elizabeth II fell ill, and Duarte was officially presented with his OBE at the British Embassy in Caracas.
“The ceremony was short and small with only six guests from my side plus British diplomats. Naturally, I shed some tears, and had to use a handkerchief as I spoke giving my thanks,” he says.
Adding to his honor, Duarte’s is the first OBE presented in his country since 1959, when a British citizen received it.
The award has buoyed his spirits during an uncertain time, as Venezuela grapples with an annual inflation rate of more than 600 percent. Simple things like making phone calls can sometimes prove difficult. Since the economic crisis, his company has been selling high security banknotes and other related business items to the Venezuelan government.
“My conclusion from this is that I am not going to retire but simply continue working; this has brought me luck and good times, especially in (Venezuela’s) difficult in times,” he says.