Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico and Latin America and founder of Grupo Carso, has put his political positions on the latest governments in Mexico in black and white and has spoken about his expectations for the next six-year term. He did so less than four months before the presidential and legislative elections, in which the prominent figure of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, president of Mexico and moral leader of the left, has a central player role. “This Government was transitional. I hope he [próximo] “Government, whoever wins, it’s about consolidation,” the tycoon said this Monday in a press conference lasting almost four hours in Mexico City. Slim, an 84-year-old engineer and owner of a fortune of around $100 billion, does not usually appear before the media, but it is known that, when he does, he candidly shares his positions, both positive and critical, regarding issues of the national agenda. That has been the tone of this last appearance, in which he has defended his business and has spoken about the coincidences and contrasts between him and the López Obrador administration. For example, his support for the division of powers and the proposal to raise salaries for teachers and doctors, and his criticism of the insecurity in the country and the prerogatives granted to parastatals.
The magnate has recently grabbed the headlines, after López Obrador stated in one of his morning conferences that, within the framework of the 2018 presidential election, a group of potentates came to Slim to ask him to be the sole candidate of the PRI and the BREAD. “There were some proposals from various people that I’m not going to tell you,” the businessman told a journalist. “When this Government ends, I have to talk to the president about many things,” he added. Slim has cultivated a good relationship with López Obrador, has been part of his Business Advisory Council and often visits him at the National Palace as well as accompanying him on trips along the Mayan Train (a project in which his companies have a stake). “As he says, we differ on several things. We’re done talking—when it’s over—about what we differ, starting with Porfirio Díaz,” the magnate added. The allusion to the dictator who clung to power in the last century and whose government the Mexican Revolution broke out made the reporters laugh. López Obrador is a staunch detractor of Díaz, whom he considers a traitor to democracy, a representative of the elites and a facilitator of US interventionism. “I think he was a great president,” Slim continued, “he governed for 30 years. “Time got out of hand, but it modernized the country.”
The midpoint between criticism and recognition of certain policies of the López Obrador Government places Slim at a prudent distance from the businessmen who openly play against the Executive and its dolphin, Claudia Sheinbaum, presidential standard bearer of the ruling party. The magnate has pointed out the problem of violence and insecurity, “a pending task that we are all waiting to be resolved.” The businessman has stated that insecurity has not only damaged the finances of his group, but also directly affects customers, particularly telephone customers, due to copper theft. Slim considers, however, that there is “social peace, there is no confrontation” between the people, despite the militancy in one political project or another. “The only thing that is circulating negatively is the issue of security, but, apart from that, the attitude of the population in general is very positive, regardless of whether they are in one party or another, whether there is unrest or there is no unrest. Except this issue [de la seguridad]”I think everything else is fine and will continue very well,” he said.
Based on this diagnosis, the businessman maintains that the June 2 elections will be held peacefully and that there will be no post-election conflicts that put democracy at risk. “We have had 90 years of peaceful changes of power, I do not see that in the election, whoever wins, there could be a confrontation, or a delicate problem in terms of the victory not being recognized. In that sense, I don’t have a worry,” he conceded. Slim, who says he personally knows Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez, the standard bearer of the opposition coalition, has highlighted his “surprise that for the first time we are governed by a woman. Let’s hope he does well.” He has made positive comments about the two candidates: “I believe that they are both very committed and it is clear that they are enthusiastic about becoming governor, which already implies a lot of commitment, courage and desire to do things well.”
Slim has assured that López Obrador has respected companies, even though the president is convinced that the State should participate in sectors such as aviation, telecommunications and banking. “The important thing is that he has respected the private sector. I believe that the private sector is working well,” he said. The magnate has highlighted that, during the first years of the six-year term, López Obrador took care of inflation, public finances and the budget, and increased revenue without creating new taxes. “I think that all of that was a job that businessmen agree on, I think that in general that was very healthy,” he said.
Slim has indicated that he agrees that the State competes with individuals “under similar conditions”, although he has clarified that, for him, the private sector is “more efficient, because it does it 100% professionally, it does not have a political bias that defines it.” Thus, he has positioned himself against the State as administrator, an important reflection in a man who benefited from the privatization of Telefonos de México (Telmex) in 1990. “I have a conviction that clashes a little with what is said in the Government: who do you think is more efficient and knows more about how to manage human, financial and material resources? The businessman or the politician?” Slim asked a journalist. “I think he is the businessman,” he himself said. “When they say that state companies are very good, they are filth, man! The directors of Pemex last two years; in the three previous six-year terms [duraban] two years. There cannot be a company in which you change directors every two years. That was Fox’s Pemex, Calderón’s, that of the previous six-year term [de Peña]”. Slim has added that Peña inherited from López Obrador a highly indebted oil company with low production levels.
The richest Mexican in the world has said that it has been “an excess” to distribute so many responsibilities to the military (whose tasks range from the construction of public works to the administration of airports and ports, in addition to public security). “I think the Armed Forces are excellent, but I think it is too much. For example, when they were invited to participate in the construction, it was very good, because […] Some excellent military engineers have turned out, and it is better that many soldiers, instead of being in the barracks, are working,” he noted. Even though he has stated that military engineers stand out in execution and speed, he has stated: “That we are getting them involved in so many things is an excess.”
Regarding the package of 20 reforms sent by López Obrador to Congress last week – which includes changes to the Judiciary, the National Guard and the pension system – Slim has stated that “there are some things that are very good and others that are average.” The businessman has praised the fact that in the current Government there are signs of division of powers, because, despite López Obrador’s strong confrontation with the judges, the Supreme Court of Justice has been an independent counterweight, unlike what happened in six-year terms. past “I find it wonderful that the three branches of government have differences. For the Supreme Court to decide something different from the Executive was unusual. Not only was it not usual, it was not done. There was enormous influence of the Executive on the Judiciary. It seems extraordinary to me that now the Judiciary decides things that are against the Executive,” he indicated.
The magnate has mentioned other points in common and contrast with López Obrador. He has supported, for example, the promotion of the right to the internet, or the demand that the United States Government invest in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to contain migration, but he has distanced himself from the reform to increase the pensions of the workers and has opposed the reform to reduce the working day to 40 hours a week.
From Telmex on the hunt for ‘black gold’
At 84 years old, Slim has taken the time to carefully describe his business history. A trajectory that goes from the founding of Jarritos del Sur in 1965 to the telecommunications emporium of América Móvil. As he himself has said, his constellation of companies began with three companies: Inversora Bursátil—today, Grupo Financiero Inburs—and Inmobiliaria Carso. A beginning that was consolidated in the 1980s through a handful of strategic purchases: Cigatam, Sanborns, Minera Frisco, among other firms.
Far from the echoes of favoritism and privileges attributed to him due to his close relationship with President López Obrador, Slim has defended the investments he has made for years in the field of telecommunications and which had as their starting point the purchase of the then parastatal Telephones of Mexico (Telmex) for 8,615 million dollars in 1990. 34 years after this privatization, the businessman affirms that Telmex has been in the red for a decade and has not yielded dividends due to the competition barriers that prevent them from offering pay television and to the burden of labor liabilities: “We are the only company in the world that does not have pay television service. “Telmex is no longer a business,” he warned.
The businessman has specified that he will not sell Telmex because he has committed to his family that it will remain a Mexican company, and has announced that they will continue investing in fiber optics so as not to lose any more market. “I am not going to sell Telmex because it is Mexican, otherwise we would have already sold it. I agreed with my children that we were not going to sell it,” he commented.
The group’s will to retain Telmex within its business portfolio necessarily involves resolving the weight of labor liabilities valued at 270,000 million pesos. Slim recognizes that, although the exchange of workers’ liabilities for Telmex shares was put on the table to reduce this burden, the plan was truncated due to the refusal of the Mexican treasury to forgive the tax on these shares and thus not harm the workers. The recovery of Telmex’s finances, which is now helped by the profits of its subsidiaries, is still an issue to be resolved for the engineer.
Questioned about the portfolio of public projects that have been won during this six-year term, Slim assures that the plans correspond to previous six-year terms, and affirms that during this Administration they have only been awarded 90% of Section 2 of the Mayan Train. “I don’t see what benefit I have in this Government,” he summarized.
From the heights of telecommunications towers, the businessman has expanded his portfolio to the depths of the seabed. In front of the media, the richest man in Mexico has emphasized that he will continue evaluating business options to increase his participation in the oil sector. At this time, Slim has a relevant stake in the Zama megafield, in partnership with the American company Talos Energy.
With more than 50 years on the public scene due to his business activity, the richest man in Mexico and Latin America has known how to play with the checks and balances of each Government, a strategic distance that has allowed him to be heard in the National Palace while consolidates the income of his businesses and his fortune.
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