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Latino advocacy groups and Occupy Wall Street protesters have begun a four-day protest against Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
The protesters, who congregated outside the Manhattan department store Saks Fifth Avenue for the first time on Tuesday, say Slim has monopolized telephone service in Mexico and overcharged customers billions of dollars.
Late Tuesday afternoon, several dozen protesters were cordoned off on a section of the sidewalk in front of Saks Fifth Avenue as police flanked the front entrance of the store. The protesters waved signs, strummed guitars, and were joined by a larger-than-life version of the Monopoly board game character Mr. Moneybags.
We are inspired by the 132 movement because we are part and parcel of that movement in the U.S.
“We have a firm belief that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere,” said Occupy D.C. protester Kelly Canavan, who traveled to New York for the protest against Slim. “We want to prevent him doing here what he’s doing there.”
Slim, who with his family has topped Forbes’ list of richest people for the third year running, owns a stake in Saks Inc. and controls about 70 percent of the Mexican mobile phone market through his telecom company, America Movil.
As Slim’s influence expands across the globe, protests against the billionaires’ telecommunications empire have also crossed borders. Two Countries One Voice, the coalition that organized Tuesday’s protest, first protested Slim in May when he received an honorary degree from George Washington University and has since teamed up with Occupy Wall Street and New York politicians to urge a boycott of all institutions affiliated with the billionaire.
“We are calling on the American public to join our efforts and stop shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue as a demonstration of opposition to Carlos Slim’s exploitation of the Mexican poor,” said Two Countries One Voice leader Juan José Gutiérrez in a statement announcing the protest on Monday.
Gutiérrez said later that he hoped the protest would make Americans more aware of Slim and help Slim “understand that this is the U.S. and we are the greatest promoters of competition. He's going to have to understand that he has to play by the rules.”
Slim’s America Movil has come under fire in recent years for charging high interconnection fees to competitors in Mexico through local brand Telcel. In May, one of Mexico’s biggest anti-trust cases ended when Slim agreed to reduce the fees his company charged competitors to use its network, avoiding a $1 billion fine by Mexico's Federal Competition Commission (Cofeco).
In the past, Slim has defended the rates he charges customers, arguing that rates across the region should be compared based on sales price and not on purchasing power. He has also sought to emphasize his philanthropic work through the Carlos Slim Foundation. In a statement on his website, Slim writes, “from my position as a businessman I have always felt deep responsibility towards my country and have thus acted.”
However, Slim’s media holdings, which include a stake of the New York Times Company, have also inspired concern. Recent Mexican social media movements such as #YoSoy132, which accused Mexican media company Televisa of biased coverage in the country’s July presidential elections, have denounced the political influence of large media conglomerates in Mexico.
Members of the #YoSoy132 movement were invited to Tuesday’s protest, but were not present due to “logistical and coordination problems that arose at the last minute,” according to a letter of support written by #YoSoy132 ITAM spokesperson Antonio Attolini Murra.
“We are inspired by the 132 movement because we are part and parcel of that movement in the U.S.,” said Gutiérrez at Tuesday’s protest.
A spokesperson for Saks Inc. said the company had no comment on the protest. However, Arturo Elias Ayub, Slim’s son-in-law and spokesperson, told Reuters on Friday that he suspected the protestors had been paid to participate, a claim they have denied.