“Mafia of power” and “influence peddlers” are some of the labels used by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for Mexican business leaders, except for one — Carlos Slim, Latin America’s richest man.
The leftist president, who took office in 2018 promising to break with “neoliberalism,” on Monday described the 81-year-old magnate as a “friend” and “a good businessman who contributes to the development of the country.”
Lopez Obrador had breakfast with Slim at the National Palace and underscored the fiscal contribution of America Movil, Latin America’s largest telecommunications firm and the flagship of Slim’s empire.
America Movil paid taxes of 28 billion pesos ($1.35 billion) in Mexico on December 16 after selling a subsidiary in the United States, Lopez Obrador tweeted along with a photo of Slim.
The president has a long-standing relationship with the tycoon, who with his family was worth an estimated $83.8 billion as of Monday, according to the Forbes magazine website.
He brought Slim on board his flagship project, the Maya tourist train, and the magnate’s foundation supported the production of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in Mexico.
Slim’s construction company, Carso, built the elevated section of the Mexico City metro that collapsed in May, killing 26 people.
The businessman, who at one time was the world’s richest man, promised to pay for the reconstruction in full.
Carso told investors that the cost would be around 800 million pesos, no more than one percent of its annual revenue.
The paths of the politician and the businessman crossed when Lopez Obrador was mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005 and Slim invested in development projects in the capital’s historic center.
“They’ve been getting along for 20 years,” said Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister.
“Lopez Obrador is too shrewd to take on the most powerful man in Mexico,” he said.
A person close to Slim described the relationship as “institutional.”
– ‘Above political conflicts’ –
Lopez Obrador’s relationship with Slim has not been entirely smooth.
After coming to power, Lopez Obrador canceled the construction of a half-finished new airport for Mexico City.
He alleged that the flagship project of his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto was riddled with corruption, leaving Slim’s consortium facing scrutiny for its role in the work.
“It changed the tone of the relationship between the two of them,” columnist Mario Maldonado told AFP, although there was not a total breakdown.
“Slim is one of these businessmen who is a little bit above political conflicts,” he added.
“He knows how to relate to everyone — presidents and high-ranking politicians,” Maldonado said.
Slim’s business career took off when he bought Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex) from the Mexican state in 1990, during the presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, one of Lopez Obrador’s biggest rivals.
“It’s true that Telmex was handed to Carlos Slim by Carlos Salinas,” said Jesus Ramirez, spokesman for Lopez Obrador.
“But at the same time, you have to be realistic when you’re in government,” he added.
Lopez Obrador also has good relationships with other private sector figures, such as Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, Ramirez said.
The president has often turned his fire on Mexican business lobbies and those he calls his “adversaries” in the private sector, though he rarely singles out individuals by name.
“They’re white-collar criminals, plunderers, who cheated with clean energy to do dirty business,” Lopez Obrador said in October, attacking businessmen who say they are supporters of renewable power.
In contrast, Slim’s good social image “brings him closer to President Lopez Obrador, in the sense that he’s not a typical profligate millionaire with luxuries on all side,” said Maldonado.
The two men’s relationship has come under criticism from some observers.
Denise Dresser, a professor of political science at the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico (ITAM), has called it an example of “buddy capitalism.”
“Lopez Obrador celebrates it instead of changing the rules,” she tweeted after a meeting between the two men earlier this year.