By RICARDO CASTILLO
Mexico’s top tycoons are slamming down the electoral panic button!
One after another, the owners of the nation’s top fortunes are asking their employees to “weigh the balance” (sopesar, in Spanish) of their vote and vote for continuity and stability. What does that mean? Do not vote for the Together We’ll Make History three-party coalition candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO.)
Here are some of the names, and, it must be said that there is an exception, and that is the nation’s top mogul, Carlos Slim. At least publicly, he’s staying aloof from making any vote-oriented statements.
This week, Mexico’s second-wealthiest man and Grupo México chairman of the board Germán “Copper King” Larrea (worth $17.6 billion, according to Forbes) wrote a letter to his more than 50,000 employees asking them not to vote for the “populist” option and consider that it would bring changes to the prevailing free-market capitalist system that Mexico now enjoys. The risk is too great and may turn Mexico into another Venezuela, Larrea warned in his two-page letter.
Separately, another Mexican tycoon, Grupo Bal billionaire Alberto Baillères (worth $10.4 billion), met this past week with all of his managers at a company dining hall in a southern Mexico City mall (Perisur) to instruct them to ask all of the company’s employees to “sopesar” their vote and avoid voting for anyone that might disrupt the current delicate balance of the Mexican economy. The news broke that Baillères specifically asked them to not vote for AMLO, but Palacio de Hierro luxury fashion stores issued a statement saying that, though the meetings did exist, Grupo Bal management did not ask to vote, or not vote, for any particular candidate. (Still, it didn’t sound like that when the news first broke on Wednesday.)
The list of top entrepreneurs running scared on the humongous success of AMLO’s electoral campaign is having is a lot longer, even though Larrea and Baillères do stand out. Among some of the top players are FEMSA (Mexico’s Coca-Cola vendor, with 285,000 employees), supermarkets Chedraui, food cannery Herdez, baking company Bimbo and metal kitchen dishes manufacturer Vasconia. The list goes on. Most of the companies have posted live videos on Facebook to make their subtle “anti-populist” (meaning anti-AMLO) statements.
And rumors abound, including the one that if AMLO wins the election on July 1, Carlos Slim’s chain of restaurant and store brand Sanborns will shut down. Slim promptly refuted the rumor.
From the horse’s mouth we have it that what the entrepreneurs fear is a return to the populist past of the so-called Tragic Dozen – that is, the two six-year terms of former presidents Luis Echeverría and José López Portillo from 1970 through 1982 when both failed to institute a socialist – not populist – model with a state-run economy. That system collapsed long ago.
AMLO is currently stumping all over the nation and last Tuesday in Xalapa, Veracruz, he denied any type of nationalization and guaranteed free trade and investment, promising that should he reach the presidency, he will not affect any particular business or corporations because the only thing he wants is to rid the country of official corruption and influence-peddling in government contracting.
But on Wednesday, when Germán Larrea’s letter to his employees was made public, AMLO, at a rally in Amecameca (under the Mexico City volcanoes) and later in Papantla and Poza Rica, Veracruz, he referred directly to the Larrea letter and commented to his literally thousands of followers at every stumping point:
“I understand his concern because Larrea has been one of the preferred businessmen in this neoliberal period and he is also a good influence-peddler and Mexico’s second-wealthiest man, after Carlos Slim,” he said.
AMLO made it a point to mention that former President Carlos Salinas (1988-1994) put Larrea on the map after letting him control 93 percent of Mexico’s copper production.
Ironically, last Wednesday, May 30, the conservative daily Reforma – the businessmen’s favorite newspaper – published a new poll that put AMLO’s vote preference at 52 percent, with runner-up Ricardo Anaya at 26 percent and President Peña Nieto’s candidate, José Antonio Meade, at,19 percent.
That pretty much toned down the general outcry of Mexico’s richest men, who through their spokesman and Mexican Employers’ Confederation (Coparmex) president Gustavo de Hoyos called on AMLO to show “tolerance” for different points of view because AMLO is now claiming, “these dudes don’t even know what populism means.”
It’s the first day of June, and summer is here, even if the summer equinox will officially come on June 21.
But even in their air-conditioned offices, Mexico’s entrepreneurs are having a nervously hot and sweaty summer already as they cut down on investments and prepare to weather what appears to be the inevitable outcome of the July 1 presidential election: