July 20, 2007

The Billionaire and the Border

Considered by some to be the world’s richest man, Mexican magnate Carlos Slim is increasingly showing interest in the US-Mexico border region. Slim´s latest foray into the borderlands was at an economic development conference held in the Sonora state capital of Hermosillo this week. At an event attended by business leaders and government officials from all the US-Mexico border states, Slim suggested that the Border Governor´s Conference, which is scheduled to meet later this summer, play a leading role in pushing a new development plan for both sides of the border. Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours were among elected officials in attendance at the Hermosillo meeting.

“The important thing is to have a clear view of the future,” Slim said, “in order to focus actions with short- term, three-to-five year programs of action that define the direction.” In general terms, Slim called for mixing public and private financing to develop the border region.

The public sector can contribute educational, health and legal resources, he added.

Slim´s appearance in Hermosillo came at a time when Gov. Bour´s Sonora Project Plan is generating hot debate over its proposed strategy of assuming more public debt to finance development. The speech also occurred at a moment when state and federal resources available to meet the needs of a growing population are shrinking.

While no concrete deals were immediately announced between Slim and border state leaders, the billionaire has advocated the construction of a new border highway. Last year, Slim launched a new company, Ideal, to specialize in public works development in Mexico and Latin America. In other recent declarations, Slim has proposed the construction of a network of new hospitals in Mexican border cities to serve financially hard-pressed US patients.

The 67-year-old Slim was rated as the world´s richest man by the Mexican website Common Sense last month. According to Common Sense, a profit surge allowed Slim’s fortune to reach nearly $68 billion-a sum that is equivalent to almost 8 percent of Mexico´s Gross Domestic Product.

Earlier this year, Fortune magazine counted Slim as the world´s second richest man, falling slightly behind Microsoft´s Bill Gates. Slim’s personal wealth is rooted in his control of the telecommunications industry in Mexico and much of Latin America, as well as investments in the retail, tobacco and restaurant industries.

“I do not have ambitions to surpass anybody,” Slim has been quoted as saying.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur an on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies.

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