Cablegate: Who Are Mexico's Wealthiest Business Leaders?

DE RUEHME #2187/01 1982012
P 162012Z JUL 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 MEXICO 002187



E.O. 12958:
DECL: 04/05/2011


REF: A. MONTERREY 101 B. 06 MEXICO 6413 C. 08 MEXICO 1840 D. 07 MEXICO 6249

Classified By: Classified by Acting Econ M/C Laura Kirkconnell for reas ons 1.5 (b) and (d.)

1. (SBU) Summary: Mexico, a country where roughly 40% of the population lives in poverty, has 10 people on FORBES Magazine's 2008 list of the world's billionaires. While these individuals have made important contributions to society via the expansion of services to marginalized areas, job creation, and charitable donations, this concentration of wealth and economic power hinders Mexico's ability to realize more and deeper levels of competition in key industries. This telegram spells out who these individuals are, how they got where they are, and how this concentration of wealth affects Mexico. End Summary.

Mexico's Wealthiest Business Leaders

2. (SBU) A number of prominent families control a significant amount of wealth in Mexico. The net wealth of the ten richest people in Mexico -- a country where more than 40% of the population lives in poverty -- represents roughly 10% of the country's GDP. To facilitate USG understanding of what analysts are referring to when they talk about Mexico's wealthiest business leaders, Post is providing the following list, which draws from FORBES Magazine's 2008 list of the world's billionaires. This list is by no means exhaustive.

Carlos SLIM Helu and family

3. (SBU) In March 2008, FORBES ranked telecom tycoon Carlos SLIM as the second-richest person in the world, behind Warren Buffet and ahead of Bill Gates. His net worth of $60 billion dollars is roughly equivalent to 6% of Mexico's GDP. This is up from $13.8 billion dollars in 2004, when he ranked number 17. SLIM made it into the big leagues in 1990 when he led a group of investors in buying Telmex from the GOM in a public tender during the presidency of Carlos Salinas. Telmex now controls nine of every ten landlines in the country, while SLIM-controlled America Movil via its subsidiary Telcel has 73% of Mexico's cellular phone market.

4. (U) SLIM's business empire extends beyond telecommunications. He has stakes in an airline, a bank, a construction company, department stores (including Sanborns), restaurants, music outlets, and he sells insurance, auto parts, and ceramic tiles. He is developing a business presence throughout Latin America. SLIM's holding company, Grupo Carso, has stepped up its charitable donations in recent years.

Alberto Bailleres and family

5. (U) Alberto Bailleres owns a holding company called Grupo Bal, which controls a large number of businesses, including the huge metallurgical company Industrias Penoles; the luxury department store Palacio de Hierro; and other companies related to insurance, financial services, and agriculture. His father founded ITAM, one of Mexico's top economic universities. Bailleres' net worth is $9.8 billion dollars.

German Larrea Mota-Velasco and family

6. (U) German Larrea Mota-Velasco, whose net worth is $7.3 billion, is the CEO of mining company Grupo Mexico -- the world's third-largest copper producer. He also has a transportation business that includes the country's biggest railroad. He sits on the boards of Grupo Banamex, Grupo MEXICO 00002187 002 OF 005 Bursatil Mexicano, Grupo Televisa, and Seguros Comercial America.

Ricardo Salinas Pliego and family

7. (U) With a net worth of $6.3 billion, Salinas took over his family's discount retailer, Grupo Elektra, in 1987. He also launched TV Azteca, which is now Mexico's second-largest television network; mobile carrier Unefon; and Banco Azteca, a bank run out of Elektra stores that serves nearly 15 million mostly low-income clients.

Jeronimo Arango

8. (U) Jeronimo Arango, whose net worth is $4.3 billion, is cofounder of the Bodega Aurrera supermarket chain. In addition to supermarkets, his family's company, Grupo Cifra, has restaurants and fashion stores. Cifra partnered with Wal-Mart in the early 1990s, but was later bought out by Wal-Mart, which became Wal-Mart de Mexico. Arango cashed out for more than $2 billion dollars, and kept some of the company's stock.

Isaac Saba Raffoul and family

9. (U) Saba runs Grupo Casa Saba, which markets health, pharmaceutical, and beauty products throughout Mexico. Saba has a joint venture with Telemundo to produce Spanish-language soap operas in the U.S. and Latin America. He tried to get a Mexican broadcasting license in 2006, but Televisa and TV Azteca so far have managed to prevent his full entry into the market. His net worth is $2.1 billion.

Roberto Hernandez and family

10. (U) Worth $1.7 billion, Hernandez was CEO of Banamex when the bank sold out to Citigroup in 2001 -- a deal that gave him almost $2 billion dollars. He owns resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Emilio Azcarraga Jean and family

11. (U) Emilio Azcarraga Jean is Grupo Televisa's chairman and the son of an entrepreneur who built the company from a string of radio stations into a huge conglomerate. Televisa owns Mexico's two main cable television and satellite providers (Cablevision and Sky). Azcarraga was handed a legal setback last year when the Supreme Court struck down provisions of a radio and television law designed to protect Televisa from new competition. He is on the boards of Telmex, Univision, and Banamex. His net worth is $1.6 billion.

Alfredo Harp Helu and family

12. (U) Worth $1.6 billion, Harp is a beneficiary of Citigroup's buyout of Banamex. He owns the country's second-largest telephone company (Avantel) and the Mexico City Red Devils baseball team. He is an active philanthropist and Carlos SLIM's cousin.

Lorenzo Zambrano and family

13. (U) Mexico's tenth-richest man is Lorenzo Zambrano, the head of cement giant Cemex. Zambrano, who inherited the company from his grandfather, has turned the company into one of the world's largest cement makers (Ref A). He also owns part of the telecom company Axtel, and sits on the boards of several large Mexican businesses.

How They Got Where They Are
--------------------------- MEXICO 00002187 003 OF 005

14. (SBU) It is difficult to make generalizations about how these individuals accumulated their wealth. While most of them inherited their wealth, others are largely self made. And while some in this group have embraced the need for transparency and modern business practices, others prefer their privacy and more traditional ways of doing business. That said, some of these individuals clearly took advantage of shortcomings in Mexican institutions and their relationships with important political figures to expand their wealth. Several of the business dynasties that these individuals own took off in the 1990s, when then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (PRI) began dismantling Mexico's centralized economy. Salinas sold off more than 1,000 state-run companies from metal foundries to railroads. Unfortunately, in some cases, these privatizations ended up creating private-sector monopolies -- benefiting savvy businessmen and politicians while leaving the average Mexican out in the cold.

15. (SBU) A classic example of this is Telmex's privatization. When SLIM and his partners purchased Telmex in 1990, the government gave them extremely favorable terms. Not only did the GOM sell the Telmex monopoly intact, it barred competition during the first six years post-privatization. While countries like the U.S. initially barred local "baby bell" carriers from offering long-distance and cellular service in their same area, Telmex got to do all of this at once, and across the entire country. Indeed, it won the only nationwide cellular-telephone concession, while rivals had to settle for concessions that were limited to certain regions. When competition was allowed in long distance, foreign carriers were limited to a minority stake in the fixed-line business. Similarly, Ricardo Salinas acquired the state-owned Imevision television network via auction in 1993, converting it into TV Azteca.

The Downsides of Dominance

16. (SBU) The negative aspects of this concentration of wealth and economic power cannot be overlooked because many of these individuals control the monopolies and oligopolies that hold back economic growth. SLIM, Salinas, and others have used their influence to sway economic policy and work the system to further their business interests and hinder their competitors. A World Bank report found that billionaire-controlled companies in Mexico are more likely to be involved in monopolistic practices and win amparos, or judicial stays, which allow them to delay regulatory rulings against them while they mire the process in appeals. The result is that SLIM still dominates the telecom market; GE, NBC and others are unable to break into the broadcasting market; and the Federal Competition Commission (Cofeco) remains unable to impose significant penalties on anti-competitive conduct. It is worth noting that even when Cofeco applies a penalty and wins the inevitable court appeal filed by the defendant, it cannot always force the offending party to pay its (minimal) fine due to its weak enforcement mechanisms and the ability of these powerful business conglomerates to manipulate the judicial system.

17. (C) Another tactic these individuals (and others) use to hamper their competition is criminalizing investment disputes. (Note: The misuse of the judicial system is employed by Mexican companies of all sizes to resolve disputes. It reflects weaknesses in the legal system that companies exploit, and is one of the reasons judicial reform is an important issue in Mexico. End Note.) Salina's TV Azteca, for example, excels at this tactic. The most recent dispute brought to the attention of Post -- between TV Azteca and a major U.S. insurance company -- was based on the insurance company's refusal to make an insurance reimbursement to TV Azteca. The insurance company believed MEXICO 00002187 004 OF 005 that under the terms of its contract with TV Azteca, it had no obligation to pay the settlement, valued at approximately USD 18 million. While the dispute was being heard in commercial court, the company's Director General and legal counselor were arrested without warning and thrown in jail. Company executives were told by TV Azteca that the Director General would be charged with criminal fraud unless the settlement was paid. Fearing for the health of the Director General, who required medical care not readily available in prison, the U.S. insurance company appealed to the judge to release the Director General on health grounds. The judge, who unsubstantiated rumors suggest may have accepted a bribe of over a million USD on this case, refused to release the Director General, and threatened to keep him in jail for the duration of the weekend. Ultimately, the insurance company paid USD 18 million as a settlement to have the Director General released.

Calderon's Approach: Little by Little

18. (SBU) President Calderon has pledged publicly to foster competition in the local economy since his campaign. Senior administration officials, however, have told Emboffs that they do not want to open too many reform fronts at one time -- suggesting that they understand the importance of increasing competition in the local economy but know that they have to be realistic when going up against influential powerbrokers like Carlos SLIM. This may be particularly true as the mid-term election draws near, given that these economic giants often help finance campaign costs, and in the case of Televisa and TV Azteca, control television coverage of Mexican politics. Instead, Calderon has given priority to other economic reforms (tax, pension, energy), and moved quietly (and very slowly) on competition reform.

19. (SBU) The limited progress we have seen has been on the telecommunications front. SLIM has made known his desire that Telmex be allowed entry into the television market to complete their "triple play" -- telephone, internet and television -- offering. In exchange for changing Telmex's concession, the administration is requiring Telmex to comply with number portability and interconnection requirements -- thus helping to foster increased competition in the sector. The administration also has announced its intention to auction a large amount of spectrum that might be used by existing mobile telecommunications companies or new entrants to provide broadband telephony services to the Mexican consumer.


20. (SBU) The Mexican government has long been called on to address monopolistic practices in the both the public and private sector. Critics had hoped that the situation would improve when the National Action Party (PAN) assumed power from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000, but progress has been minimal. The current administration's strategy of slowly chipping away at the problem is better than no progress at all, but until it deals with the "Robber Barons" of its time, progress will continue to be limited.

21. (SBU) Of course, these economic powerhouses are not the only obstacle to improving competition in the Mexican economy. Cofeco needs to be strengthened so it can enforce deterrent penalties on anti-competitive conduct. A bill that would help make progress on this front is awaiting congressional approval, but some PRI and PAN legislators have been blocking it (Refs C and D). Equally important, Mexican consumers need to stand up for their rights and press for legal changes to give them a more powerful voice. Excessive MEXICO 00002187 005 OF 005 regulations and obstacles to opening new businesses have hindered the advancement of new entrepreneurs, as has Mexico's underdeveloped private equity industry. Taming widespread corruption and strengthening the judicial system would also help promote competition. With regard to the judiciary, the Embassy is working with Cofeco on a series of seminars and exchanges between U.S. and Mexican judges and competition officials designed to raise awareness of the importance of robust competition and compare experiences in enforcing our respective competition laws. Until the Mexican government, congress, judiciary, and consumers work together to address these issues, a lack of competition will continue to be a stumbling block in Mexico's drive to improve the economy's productivity, innovation, and competitiveness. Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at and the North American Partnership Blog at / GARZA

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