Mexico’s business elite ponied up 1.5 billion pesos Wednesday night to purchase tickets in the raffle President López Obrador announced last week to cover the costs of maintaining the unwanted luxury jet of his predecessor and purchase medical equipment.
Over a dinner at the National Palace of tamales de chipilín, a tamal stuffed with the leaves of an aromatic legume, and atole de chocolate, a hot corn-based beverage, López Obrador asked some 150 company owners, chief executives and business group leaders to commit to purchasing four million of the six million 500-peso (US $27) tickets that will be offered in the raffle.
The president said Thursday morning that about half of those who attended committed to buying tickets.
The businesspeople – among whom were Mexico’s richest individual, Carlos Slim Helú, and the heads of companies including broadcaster Televisa, the airline Interjet, cinema chain Cinépolis and bread maker Bimbo – were given copies of a letter of intent that gave them the option of checking boxes to voluntarily commit to buying tickets worth 20, 50, 100 or 200 million pesos.
The head of state development bank Banobras, Jorge Mendoza, made it clear that any money spent on raffle tickets would not be tax deductible.
The businesspeople who committed to buying tickets placed their signed letters of intent in a tómbola, or lottery machine.
After the two-hour dinner, the president of paper and cardboard company Bio Pappel told reporters that the majority of businesspeople had made a commitment to purchase raffle tickets.
“There was no pressure, the president was very clear. He said: ‘I thank you for coming, this is a commitment that you should make [but] no one is obliged to because business owners already comply with the payment of taxes,” Miguel Rincón Arredondo said.
José Zozaya, president of railroad company Kansas City Southern de México, also said that López Obrador didn’t attempt to force the dinner attendees to buy tickets, stating that there was no “obligation” but rather “a request.”
Bosco de la Vega, president of the National Agriculture Council, said that he had made a commitment to purchase tickets but didn’t reveal how many he would buy. Asked whether the tamales were the most expensive he had ever eaten, he responded: “Until now, yes.”
Carlos Bremer, CEO of a financial services company and director of a youth sports foundation that last year paid 102 million pesos for a Mexico City mansion formerly owned by accused drug trafficker Zhenli Ye Gon, joked that he and other businesspeople would have to leave their offices and sell their tickets on street corners.
Slim, a telecommunications mogul who turned 80 late last month, said that he had “of course” made a commitment to purchase raffle tickets because the money raised will be used for a good cause.
Antonio Suárez of canned tuna conglomerate Grupomar said that he wouldn’t buy 40,000 tickets – the minimum number listed on the letter of intent – but committed to buying a few thousand and gifting them to his employees.
López Obrador first floated the idea of holding a raffle to offload the presidential plane used by his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto in January. He announced last Friday that a raffle would go ahead but said that the plane wouldn’t be up for grabs but rather 100 people would win prizes of 20 million pesos (just over US $1 million) each. The president is determined to sell the luxuriously outfitted Boeing 787 Dreamliner but has had no luck in finding a buyer.
As part of wider cost-cutting measures implemented by his government, López Obrador flies coach on commercial airlines when he travels long distances within Mexico.