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Trump may find he’s facing a master negotiator in talks with Mexico

Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, right, gestures to his son Carlos Slim Domit as they arrive for a news conference in Mexico City. Slim called for "national unity" in the face of Trump's hostility and said Mexico should have a measured response.
Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, right, gestures to his son Carlos Slim Domit as they arrive for a news conference in Mexico City. Slim called for "national unity" in the face of Trump's hostility and said Mexico should have a measured response. AP

Carlos Slim, Mexico’s richest man and one of the wealthiest men in the world, offered Friday to help Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto negotiate with President Donald Trump.

The Mexican business tycoon made the offer to help negotiate with the American tycoon during a rare public appearance in Mexico City just before Trump told reporters in Washington that he’d spoken with Peña Nieto for an hour and the two had agreed to renegotiate many aspects of their countries’ relationship.

Slim, worth an estimated $46.5 billion, sought to comfort concerned Mexicans, calling Trump, whose worth is estimated at a mere $4.5 billion, a “grand negotiator” but not a “terminator.”

Slim urged “national unity” in the face of the hostility caused by Trump’s ordering construction of a border wall and praised Mexicans’ reaction, saying the last time he’d seen his countrymen pull together in a similar way was the devastating 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, which killed more than 5,000 people.

Trump also seeks a return to the past. Like a friend said, to a ‘regressive utopia.’

Carlos Slim

Slim’s intervention in the growing tension between the United States and its third most important trading partner came as Trump told reporters in Washington that he’d had spent an hour on the phone Friday with Peña Nieto. In that phone call, Trump said, he and Peña Nieto agreed to renegotiate many aspects of U.S. relations with Mexico. Trump said Mexico had taken advantage of the United States for decades but that that period was coming to an end.

Slim both praised and criticized Trump, commending him for offering ideas to improve the U.S infrastructure, capital investment and health care. But he also said Trump was seeking to re-create a time that no longer existed.

“Trump also seeks a return to the past,” Slim said. “Like a friend said, to a ‘regressive utopia.’ ”

Whether Slim would really become a Mexican government negotiator is unknown – Mexico’s office of the presidency didn’t comment on the offer. But the call for unity by arguably Mexico’s best-known businessman is a reflection of how Trump’s border wall and his insistence that Mexico will pay for its construction have galvanized opinion there.

Some politicians have suggested kicking out U.S. drug enforcement agents and ceasing to enforce their own southern border, across which thousands of Central Americans come each month on their way to the United States. But Slim urged calm, saying Mexico’s response should be measured, “without getting angry but without surrendering.”

Slim, who made his money in telecommunications, is also a reminder of how tight the world of billionaires is. During the campaign, Trump often criticized Slim, who owns an estimated 17 percent of The New York Times and is a contributor to the Clinton Foundation. But the two seemed to make amends after the election, even having dinner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Florida resort.

Slim showed his negotiating prowess, repeatedly offering compliments to Trump, and encouraging Mexicans to read Trump’s book “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America.”

“I think what he’s trying to tell people is ‘I know how to deal this with this. Let me help you deal with this and it won’t turn out as badly as you think it’s going to turn out,’ ” said Gregory Weeks, the editor of the academic journal The Latin Americanist.

I think what he’s trying to tell people is ‘I know how to deal this with this. Let me help you.’

Gregory Weeks, The Latin Americanist

Slim said Trump’s presidency could be even good news for Mexico if Trump were able to expand the U.S. economy. It could lead to increased consumption for Mexican goods.

But whether the two will meet across the negotiating table is still to be seen.

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