by Andy Porras
México lindo y querido — beautiful and beloved, as the old ballad proclaims — is also a land of depressing disparity. It is, as a recent study sizes up, almost 50 percent dirt poor.
Then, too, Mexico is the home of the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim Helu. His family came to Mexico from Lebanon just before the 1911 Mexican Revolution.
Is there something wrong with this picture? Many Mexicans, rich or poor, think so.
Slim is a cigar-smoking, 67-year-old tycoon worth, as of July 4, $63 billion.
He doesn’t believe in charitable causes a la Bill Gates. His influence in his country all but offends.
If you’re a young Mexican you were probably born in one of Slim’s Star Médica hospitals and use electricity carried by his Condumex brand cables.
You also drive on roads paved by the Slim’s CILSA construction company and your vehicle uses fuels pumped from his Swecomex drilling platforms.
More than likely you communicate through his Telmex phone lines. Plus, you probably smoke Slim’s tobacco, sold under the Marlboro brand, and shop at Sears Roebuck of Mexico, a subsidiary of his colossal Carso Group.
This Mexican mogul, who cites his having traded baseball cards as a youngster as what trained him for the future, is giving monopoly a totally new meaning.
He claims that the New York Yankees are still his favorite baseball team, but he follows Barry Bonds’ home run quest with passion.
In a recent interview, he said that he searches for undervalued businesses, infuses them with cash, and then uses the size of his holdings to overwhelm the competition. Today he owns controlling stakes in more than 200 businesses.
In a country where nearly 50 percent of the population lives in poverty and thousands risk their lives in search of a survival wage across the U.S. border, you might understand why Slim’s wealth causes some resentment. Coupled with the fact that his philosophy is based on a “conviction that poverty is not fought with donations, charity or public spending,” he has not exactly endeared him to Mexicans living outside his hacienda.
It’s been reported that Slim’s business holdings are now so vast that sometimes he loses track of what he owns. His companies employ more than 200,000 people. He says that by keeping those companies strong he’s making his most important contribution to Mexico’s economy.
Slim once explained to a U.S. reporter that while words speak to many people, “to some of us, it’s the numbers.”
According to Professor Celso Garrido, a Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) economist, the domination of his country’s conglomerates chokes off growth of smaller companies, thus resulting in the shortage of good jobs and driving many Mexicans to seek better lives north of the Rio Grande.
Forbes Magazine notes that Slim’s fortune has surged in the last two years by at least $23 billion because of his holdings in Mexico’s booming stock market, although unemployment and wages have remained more or less the same.
As Slim’s fortunes continue to blossom, so has criticism. The Mexican media has mentioned that he has pledged to donate $6 billion to three charitable foundations and plans a new building for an art museum directed at exposing disadvantaged Mexicans to European art.
“A museum for European art?” asks Ernesto Beltrán of Sacramento, now a naturalized U.S. citizen who crossed into the United States in the trunk of a Cadillac. “Most Mexicans know the real story behind that endowment is to build a new building for his Soumaya Museum, named after his late wife.”
Beltrán comments that it would be hard to live one day in Mexico without purchasing any of the products produced by a Slim corporation. “Señor Slim is so wealthy and powerful. In a country with so many poor people, it’s almost criminal.”
So what are the chances for our southern neighbor becoming a nation of more haves than have-nots?
There are two, slim and none. Hispanic Link
(Andy Porras is publisher of the Sacramento area bilingual monthly “Califas.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org) © 2007