Haavisto’s partner: Antonio Flores – irresistible charmer
By Katja Martelius
Hairdresser Nexar Antonio Flores, 33, the registered partner of presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto, 53, sits at the campaign office of the Green League, and says that he cannot even imagine what it would ultimately mean if Haavisto were to win the election.
Flores staunchly refuses to comment on the possible hair issues of Sauli Niinistö, but he has helped upgrade Haavisto’s image in a very concrete manner. Haavisto’s new statesmanlike style is the work of Flores. Haavisto’s grooming is currently always tip top.
Flores has recommended light-coloured stripes for the summer, but Haavisto would not agree to that, as he prefers a natural look.
It needs to be said that Flores has also done some damage to Haavisto’s image. The first thing that comes to mind was his DUI arrest in his native Ecuador in October, which put him in jail for five days, and which he was too embarrassed to mention to Haavisto, who did not find out until he read about it in a newspaper.
And then there was a fight five years ago with friends in a gay bar. These led to big headlines, and Haavisto had to explain Flores’s behaviour – right before the elections.
Flores was extremely embarrassed. Flores is Haavisto’s weakest link, but possibly also his strongest asset.
This is how it all began.
The place is the coastal city of Esmeraldas in Ecuador. It is the early 1980s. A boy by the name of Antonio Flores lives with his mother, two sisters and brothers, and a slew of other relatives in a two-storey house.
A river runs behind the house, and around the city there is lush tropical vegetation. It is always so hot that shorts and sandals are enough clothing. When the rainy season cools the air, Flores enjoys it while he can.
Already as a young boy Antonio Flores has been interested in fashion and beauty – the light side of life. But his sisters do not like it at all when Flores gives their Barbie dolls new hair styles.
In school Flores enjoys the arts, music, and physical education, but he is no genius in mathematics or physics.
A big parade is held in Esmeraldas once a year. The schools practice for it, and the climax of the celebration is when the parade goes past the president’s box. Flores marches along with the others, and plays triangle and drums in the marching band, and once he even had a trumpet.
His mother, a secretary, would have wanted Flores to work in a bank when he grows up, but Flores wants to get into the beauty business. While in high school Flores takes lessons in hairdressing, and works in a beauty salon as an apprentice in the evenings.
Many in Esmeraldas know Flores’s grandfather, a taxi driver. His children and grandchildren are familiar faces to the local people. Flores feels that the place is getting a bit crowded. He wants to get into bigger circles – forward into the world outside.
At the age of 17 he moves in with his aunt in the capital Quito to learn more about hair styling. But there is more. Flores has told his aunt that he is homosexual. Life is easier with someone who knows.
It is Tuesday morning 16 years later at the Kamppi Center shopping mall in Helsinki. As part of Haavisto’s campaign, Flores is holding a discussion with students of hair care. He has just explained how blow-drying is done in Ecuador when noise erupts on the edges of the café.
“Homo! Do you know that he is a homo!” It is an old man wearing a cap. He pushes aggressively toward Flores. A media representative of the Green League intervenes.
“In the war people like that were shot!” the old man shouts, pointing to Flores.
Yes. Flores is homosexual and so is Pekka Haavisto.
“If I had stayed in Esmeraldas I would have had to do everything that my family wanted me to. There many people who are gay get married and have children, because of family pressure”, says Flores.
The atmosphere was freer in Quito, and nobody recognised Flores on the street. But when his friends invited him to Colombia, and a job became available in the capital Bogota, Flores saw no reason not to go.
Flores met Pekka Haavisto, who was 39 years old at the time, in a bar in Bogota. His bright eyes immediately caught the attention of Flores. There are not that many men in South America who look like Haavisto.
Ultimately a friend of Flores, who spoke more English, ended up talking more to Haavisto than Flores himself.
“I spoke very little English, but he understood.”
That night Flores wanted to dance more than anything. “It was my 19th birthday, and we went to celebrate, and Pekka was there.
The year was 1997. The next day Flores took Haavisto out to eat in his regular restaurant – a modest place which served good food on aluminium plates. Flores was surprised that Haavisto did not touch the meat on his plate.
But they spoke and time flew. They discussed how both had reached the current phases in their lives, and where they were from. At first Flores thought that Finland was a place somewhere in the United States – possibly near Philadelphia.
The outcome of the conversation is well known. First some trans-oceanic travel, and then in 1998, Flores came to Finland.
Haavisto had a surprise for him: a road trip in a red Volkswagen beetle. The trip started in Tallinn and continued through Finland and Sweden to Norway. Haavisto wanted to show Flores how people in Scandinavia live. It was the early summer and everything was beautiful and amazing.
Life here was so well organised compared with the bustle in Ecuador. Even the houses looked alike, and everything was neat. The people were a bit withdrawn, but still.
“In Ecuador Pekka felt that everybody looks like me, but in Finland it seemed to me that there are many Pekkas.”
When his holiday was at an end Flores thought for a couple of days. He decided that he wants to stay in this strange land, with this man, and see what happens.
Four years later, in 2002, Haavisto and Flores registered their partnership.
When Flores was a small child his father died in a car accident.
As he looks at the only remaining photograph of his father, Flores says that he does not actually remember anything about him. For him, Papa is his grandfather, and his aunts and uncles are like sisters and brothers to him.
Papa and his grandmother were the soul of the household, and the entire family would gather around them. When his grandparents died, the relatives scattered around the world like frightened birds. Now Flores’s mother lives in Spain with her new husband, and he has siblings and cousins around Europe.
The first time that Flores brought a man to his home in Esmeraldas, that man was Haavisto.
Flores’s mother was impressed. She felt that Haavisto was a handsome man – a real catch.
“Antonio has a boyfriend”, his relatives teased him. At that time Flores said hesitatingly that he was just a friend. But ultimately everybody understood what was really going on - especially as Flores and Haavisto both slept in Flores’s old room.
Back in Kamppi, and Flores’s new life. A passer-by, an older woman, smiles when she recognises Flores – the partner of her candidate.
“What a charming boy”, she says with delight. “And he does so well in the public eye!”
There is no shortage of publicity right now. A TV news team from Nelonen is waiting next to the glass wall of the café. The Greens’ media representative bends over to whisper a couple of words to Flores.
Flores rises from the table where the hairdressing students are sitting. “Thank you, and have a nice day”, he says to his audience.
The young women are taken by Flores.
“He was very pleasant, and youthful.”
Flores is working hard on behalf of his partner. Today there are six more interviews – in addition to the three that he gave in the morning.
In the early part of the week, immediately after the elections, Flores imagined that he could go to work at the salon as usual, but it soon became obvious that this was not going to happen.
He is still somewhat astounded at how news-hungry journalists would push their way through the glass doors without asking permission, while photographers would shoot pictures as if they were firing machine guns even though he was not ready at all. Things like that are exhausting and confusing. That is why Flores plans to go out of the country to relax with relatives for the end of the week.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.1.2012
KATJA MARTELIUS / Helsingin Sanomat