Several large businesses, including two that are directed and owned by Mexico’s second and third richest men, have warned their employees against voting for the leftist frontrunner in the July 1 presidential election.
Wary about the economic impact a government led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador would have on the country, the upmarket department store chain Palacio de Hierro is among the businesses that have told their staff to be careful with their vote.
According to a report published today by the news agency Bloomberg, executives of the company owned by billionaire Alberto Bailleres — whose wealth places him third on the rich list — recently gathered staff at its Perisur location in Mexico City for a mandatory meeting.
The message the executives hammered home was clear: vote for whichever candidate that has the best chance of beating López Obrador because it’s the best shot we have of maintaining the economic system that allows us to employ you.
Polls have consistently shown that candidate to be Ricardo Anaya, who is representing a right-left coalition led by the National Action Party (PAN).
However, the latest poll by the newspaper Reforma showed that AMLO — as he is widely known — had doubled Anaya’s support with an advantage of 52% to 26%.
That result will likely spook the business sector even further with election day just over a month away. Bloomberg said Palacio de Hierro had acted when López Obrador’s lead was a more modest 18 points.
At least three locations of the luxury store have held meetings urging employees to carefully consider the implications of their vote, the news agency said.
Executives’ presentations have included a six-minute video created by ConcienciaMX, an organization that is partially funded by Mexico’s three main business chambers.
The video’s central premise is that the situation in Mexico is not as bad as many voters might think.
Among the messages it aims to drive home are that wages and purchasing power have increased in recent decades, essential services are better and foreign trade is booming.
“Inform yourself and reflect before voting,” the narrator says near the end of the film while a graphic exhorts viewers not to vote for a candidate “out of anger.”
Responding to claims that it had sought to influence its employees’ voting intentions, Palacio de Hierro said in a statement that it “is involved in ConcienciaMX’s independent movement to form a better country through the power of Mexicans” and that the initiative promotes citizens voting for whomever they wish in a secret ballot.
“El Palacio de Hierro fully respects political preferences and reiterates its political neutrality,” the statement said.
Other companies that Bloomberg said have employed similar tactics include the country’s largest mining corporation, Grupo México, supermarket chain Chedraui, cinema chain Cinépolis and airline Aeroméxico.
The attempts at persuasion, experts say, are unseemly and heavy-handed but not necessarily illegal because they fall into a “gray zone” provided that companies don’t actually coerce employees to vote in a certain way.
There is also no hard proof that the strategy will be effective and could in fact make employees even more determined to vote for López Obrador, if that was their original intention.
One anonymous Palacio de Hierro employee told Bloomberg that the tactic was “unfair” and that the company’s intent was to “create fear.”
Javier Martín, an academic at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), said that although the companies’ attempts at influencing their employees are not illegal, that did not make them right.
Businesses “should know they’re in a privileged position and should be more careful,” he said. “It’s not a relationship between equals.”
In addition to the companies Bloomberg cited, the newspaper Milenio also included beverage multinational Femsa, food company Herdez, industrial group Vasconia, hotel company Grupo Posadas and airport operator Asur on the list, reporting that they had all requested that their employees cast a “reasoned vote.”
“Businessmen are very worried, their posture is very clear,” Alejandro Schtulmann, the head of political risk firm Empra, told Bloomberg.
“López Obrador hasn’t kept his feelings to himself, and his discourse generates great uncertainty about the economic model that he’s going to follow,” the Mexico City-based analyst said.
Mexico’s second-richest man Germán Larrea — the CEO of Grupo México — addressed those concerns in a letter to the company’s employees, shareholders and business partners.
It said the company has listened “with concern to proposals of nationalizing companies, [and] repealing energy and educational reforms, among other ideas, that represent a backward step of decades and a return to an economic model that has been thoroughly proven not to have worked in several countries; Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba and Russia, among others, are witness to that.”
Considering that eventuality, the letter outlined the precautionary measures Grupo México is taking to safeguard the company’s future and its employees’ jobs in the eventuality of a “populist government” being elected on July 1.
They include looking for savings, paying off its dollar-debt and being cautious with its future investments. Larrea also rejected claims that the company has been involved in unscrupulous business practices.
“As you know, at Grupo México, we operate mining, railroad and highway concessions that we have bid for and won legally . . . I can personally assert and guarantee that they have not been the result of either cronyism or corruption, as the candidate for Morena unfairly declares . . .” he wrote.
In response, Andrés Manuel López Obrador accused the businessman of being an “influence peddler” and of making his fortune by being one of the “government’s favorites.”
He also charged that the business sector has nothing to be afraid about because if he wins, “investment will be guaranteed [and] no businessperson will be affected.”
López Obrador added that “all we want is for corruption and clientelism to end and that the government isn’t hijacked by a greedy minority.”
He also accused Larrea of having “a lot of money but little heart [and] little humanism,” charging that during a 2006 mining disaster at a Grupo México-owned mine in Coahuila he did nothing to help 65 trapped miners.
Businessmen such as Larrea and Bailleres fit into a group of businesspeople and politicians who AMLO says enjoy a far too cozy relationship and to whom he collectively refers to as the “mafia of power.”
While López Obrador has repeatedly said that he is not anti-business, he has also pledged that such intimacy between politicians and the nation’s elite — and corruption — will end if he becomes the next president of Mexico.