Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 23, 2009


Newsosaur - Carlos Slim Helu, whose fortune of approximately $60 billion makes him the second-wealthiest man in the world, was reported by the Wall Street Journal over the weekend to be negotiating a financing that would prevent the New York Times Co. from possibly defaulting on $400 million in debt due in May. . .

Slim finds himself in a position to do so as the result of the wealth he amassed by owning a near-monopoly over both wired and mobile telephone services throughout Mexico.

Slim-s success as a businessman was the topic of a bluntly worded column by Times editorial writer Eduardo Porter in August, 2007. Here-s some of what he had to say:

"Mr. Slim is richer even than the robber barons of the gilded age. . . It takes about nine of the captains of industry and finance of the 19th and early 20th Centuries - [John D.] Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John J. Astor, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Stewart, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Jay Gould and Marshall Field - to replicate the footprint that Mr. Slim has left on Mexico.

"But the momentous scale is not the most galling aspect of Mr. Slim-s riches. There-s the issue of theft. . . Mr. Slim-s sin, if not technically criminal, is like that of Rockefeller, the sin of the monopolist.

"In 1990, the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari sold his friend Mr. Slim the Mexican national phone company, Telmex, along with a de facto commitment to maintain its monopoly for years. Then it awarded Telmex the only nationwide cellphone license.

"When competitors were eventually allowed in, Telmex kept them at bay with some rather creative gambits, like getting a judge to issue an arrest warrant for the top lawyer of a competitor. Today, it still has a 90% share of Mexico-s landline phone service and controls almost three-quarters of the cellphone market..

"But Mexico has paid, dearly. In 2005, there were fewer than 20 fixed telephone lines for every 100 Mexicans, and less than half had cellphones. Just 9% of households had Internet access. Mexicans pay way above average for all these services."


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