Monday, May 20, 2024

Carlos Slim criticizes López Obrador’s use of the military: ‘They’re in too many things’

Businessman Carlos Slim has added his voice to criticism of the federal government’s heavy reliance on the military, prompting President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to suggest that the octogenarian billionaire is unaware of the five basic “missions” of the military.

Mexico’s richest person held a marathon press conference on Monday, holding forth on a range of issues including the government’s use of the armed forces for a wide-range of non-traditional tasks including the management of ports, airports, customs and public companies, such as those tasked with running the Maya Train railroad and the new state-owned airline.

Carlos Slim and President López Obrador
Slim and President López Obrador have had a cordial relationship during the president’s term, and AMLO said “I very much respect Carlos” at his Tuesday press conference. (Lopezobrador.org.mx)

“They’re in too many things. It’s too much,” said Slim, the owner of companies such as Telcel, Telmex, Sanborns and Carso Infrastructure and Construction.

In a presser that lasted almost four hours, the 84-year-old magnate said that Mexico’s military personnel are “excellent,” but have been given tasks outside their areas of expertise. He predicted that military-run companies will lose money.

The military is starting to “operate a lot of companies and that’s not its specialty,” Slim said. “… They’re going to report losses,” he added.

However, the government’s use of the army on major infrastructure projects such as the Maya Train railroad and the Felipe Ángeles International Airport “was very good because there are good military engineers,” Slim said.

The Defense Ministry has taken over much of Mexico’s infrastructure construction and operation under President López Obrador. (Moisés Pablo/Cuartoscuro)

López Obrador has been heavily criticized for his broad use of the military — including for public security — with much of the criticism focused on the risks to human rights that entails. Slim appeared more concerned about the potential economic cost to the government.

Among other remarks, the businessman said that Telmex — the telecommunications company he bought from the government in 1990 — has been losing money for a decade. However, he ruled out attempting to sell the company.

AMLO responds

López Obrador on Tuesday stressed that Slim has the right to express his views as “we live in a free country.”

On the government’s use of the military, he said that he respects the businessman’s point of view, but doesn’t share it.

“Perhaps he doesn’t know that the army has five missions,” López Obrador said, explaining that one of them is “the construction of projects related to the development of Mexico.”

He has previously outlined “five basic missions” of the armed forces, including guaranteeing “interior security” and building infrastructure “for the progress of the country.”

At his Tuesday morning press conference, López Obrador told reporters that upon becoming president he found “a team of very important military engineers — good, hardworking, honest, first-class professionals.”

López Obrador defended the use of the military for a broad range of government tasks at his Tuesday morning press conference. (Lopezobrador.org.mx)

He didn’t specifically respond to Slim’s criticism of the military’s management of public companies.

“Anyway, I very much respect Carlos. And we always talk and debate. We don’t agree on everything,” he said.

“I respect him a lot because he is a hard working person who invests for the benefit of Mexico, he’s respectful of the power vested in the president,” López Obrador said.

Asked whether his government planned to buy Telmex, the president — a fierce critic of previous government’s privatization of public companies — gave an unequivocal response.

“No, no, no, not at all, no.”

What else did Carlos Slim say?

Slim, who has a net worth of almost US $100 billion, had plenty to say at his press conference on Monday, his first in over two years.

On the upcoming presidential election

Slim said it’s a “surprise” that Mexico will get a female president for the first time later this year.

Claudia Sheinbaum, the candidate for the ruling Morena party, is the heavy favorite to win the June 2 election. Her main rival is Xóchitl Gálvez, the candidate for a three-party opposition alliance, while Jorge Álvarez will represent the Citizens Movement party.

Slim also shared his views on a number of other topical issues in Mexico, including upcoming elections. (Graciela López/Cuartoscuro)

Slim didn’t express any preference, but asserted that both Sheinbaum and Gálvez appear “very committed” and are enthusiastic about the prospect of governing. “This government [López Obrador’s] was one of transition,” said Slim. “I hope the next government, whoever the winner is, will be of consolidation.”

On the need for more investment

Investment in Mexico has “historically” been “relatively” low, Slim said.

He said that Mexico should aim to reach annual investment equivalent to 28-30% of the country’s GDP.

With that level of public and private investment — approximately US $440 billion per year — “we can transform Mexico very quickly,” Slim said.

He said in late 2022 that increased investment in manufacturing capacity in Mexico could spur annual economic growth of 6% or higher. Growth that high has not been seen since the middle of the 20th century.

On López Obrador’s proposed constitutional reforms 

López Obrador submitted 20 constitutional reform proposals to Congress earlier this month, including one aimed at ensuring that annual minimum salary increases outpace inflation and another that seeks to give citizens the power to directly elect Supreme Court justices and other judges.

Slim said he liked some of the reforms, but disliked others. He described López Obrador’s minimum wage proposal as “good,” but was less supportive of a plan aimed at lifting retired workers’ pensions so that they are equivalent to 100% of their final salaries.

With reports from Animal Político, Reforma and La Jornada

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