D.C. protestors target world’s wealthiest man

(This article originally appeared on dcmiccheck.org)

Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim is estimated to be the wealthiest man in the world, and George Washington University plans to honor him this weekend at its 2012 Commencement ceremony. On May 11, Occupy DC joined a coalition of Latino community leaders across from Rice Hall at George Washington University, to protest Slim’s questionable business practices. Meanwhile, a representative of Two Countries One Voice met with University President Steven Knapp, hoping to persuade GWU to sever ties with Slim, the man they say is halting the economic progress of Mexico and exploiting the poor through his telecommunications monopoly.

“How can a country that has 60 million poor have the richest man in the world?” said Arnoldo Borja, a member of Two Countries One Voice. Slim’s company, America Movil, controls 80% of the Mexican telecom market and has made a reported $69 billion fortune for the tycoon, whose personal wealth surpasses that of Americans Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. According to an Organization for Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, America Movil’s subsidiaries Telemex and Telcel “price-gouge” customers but provide unreliable, sub-standard telephone and Internet service, ultimately costing the Mexican economy $129 billion.

Borja attributes Slim’s windfall to government corruption. “Mexico’s ex-president sold a nationalized company to Carlos Slim, so the prices go up because it’s a monopoly, not competition,” he said. “Direct complicity between him and the government [but] there’s no way to take him to court!”

In 2011, Mexico’s antitrust agency, the Federal Competition Commission (CFC) slapped an $864,000 fine on Telcel for monopolistic practices. They revoked the fine in early May following an agreement by America Movil to cut their rates by more than half, and to meet other conditions.

Latino groups strongly object to America Movil’s high prices and poor service because they disproportionately affect poor and rural communities, stifling their socio-economic development. According to a 2011 report from the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, 52 million Mexicans live in poverty, and 11.7 million live in extreme poverty.

In spite of Carlos Slim’s extreme wealth and the exploitative practices of his company, GWU awarded him the President’s Medal in 2009 for his “contributions to business and community development in Mexico and Latin America and his extensive philanthropic work.” They plan to confer an honorary degree on him at this year’s May 20 Commencement ceremonies.

Sam Nelson of the Progressive Student Union thinks that GWU should revoke the 2009 award and withdraw the invitation to the Commencement. “I’m horrified that GW acknowledges what Carlos Slim does and still honors him,” he said.

“We feel that GW hasn’t thoroughly looked at some of the vicious things Carlos Slim has done to the people of Mexico,” added David Abrams of Two Countries One Voice. Abrams reported that, following last Friday’s meeting with President Knapp, the University informed them on Monday that they were not breaking ties with Slim and would go ahead with the honorary degree. Abrams believes that GWU had “no idea that Latino groups would feel so passionately” about the decision to honor Slim, and now that they do know, are simply unwilling to backtrack.

Two Countries One Voice is now “escalating” its protest. According to Abrams, organizers expect up to 1,000 people at Sunday’s rally at GWU’s Commencement at the Washington Monument.

(Photo by coolrevolution.net)

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