Update: Early press releases for this event erroneously declared Mexico’s Yo Soy 132 would be involved with the Carlos Slim event in New York. That, in fact, was not the case. Occupy Wall Street and Two Countries, One Voice emhpasized at the event that, while there is solidarity between the movements, Yo Soy 132 was not participating in the event.
I spoke with several organizers and activists about how so much information could have been circulated, claiming Yo Soy 132 would be participating in the event, and my sources blamed miscommunication among the groups, though a report in La Jornada suggests the disagreement was actually of a political nature:
In light of the peaceful protest called by the Two Nations organization, the decision to not participate was made because Democratic party operatives were involved, a situation that goes against the principle of nonpartisan Mexican student collective.
The remark may be a reference to Two Countries One Voice leader Andres Ramirez, who began his career in Washington, DC working as a legislative aide to US Senator Harry Reid, and then worked for Nevada Governor Bob Miller in the State of Nevada Washington, DC Office. Ramirez later joined numerous political and advocacy campaigns. Most recently, he served as the Senior Vice President of the political and advocacy think-tank NDN. Currently, Andres serves as the Vice Chair of the DNC Hispanic Caucus where he is tasked with helping the DNC develop and implement its Hispanic engagement strategy.
Like the American Occupy Wall Street movement, Mexico’s Yo Soy 132 has gone international. According to the movement’s activists, more than fifty groups now operate under the 132 banner in parts of North America, Europe, South America, Australia and even China.
The movement’s growth and expansion have ensured that wherever Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto travels, he encounters another protest.
Also similar to Occupy, 132 is a big tent movement consisting of a wide array of grievances, including media, political and economic monopolization, indigenous and migrant rights, educational access and environmental protection, among other issues.
In a July 27 manifesto, the 132 Movement defined itself as a non-partisan, autonomous, anti-neoliberal and peaceful force. The 132ers advocate for a free, scientific, humanistic, high-quality, and diverse educational system that is “guaranteed by the state at all levels as a constitutional obligation.”
Now, 132 has joined forces with Occupy and dubbed itself “Two Countries, One Voice,” and is targeting Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, whom Forbes recently named the world’s richest man. As of March 2012, Slim and his family were worth $69 billion.
This evening, the coalition plans to occupy Saks Fifth Avenue where Slim has a good chunk of ownership. Protesters say the action is directed agains the “1 percent of the 1 percent.”
On the “Two Countries, One Voice” website, organizers claim that Slim has built his telecommunications empire “on the backs of Mexico’s poor” and accuse Slim of overcharging Mexicans “billions and billions of dollars while his monopolistic practices have cost the Mexican economy $129 billion.”
“We will not stand for such abusive practices that exploit people just so that the richest man in the world can get richer,” the group states.
“Carlos Slim is taking his model he created in Mexico that was built on the backs of the poor charging excessively high prices and providing inadequate service to countries across Latin America and Europe,” said Juan José Gutiérrez, one of the leaders of Two Countries One Voice and the president of Vamos Unidos USA. “We’re here today to say enough is enough. We’re here today to shine a glaring light on the damage monopolies can have on a country and a people.”
As for rampant poverty in Mexico, Slim said in an interview with Larry King in December 2010 that he is “convinced that all this poverty in Mexico and Latin America…is the opportunity to grow.”
But opponents says his policies of price gouging and overcharging have actually slowed Mexico’s economic growth.
A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development states that Mexico’s phone industry, dominated by the billionaire Sims (he controls a whopping 70 percent of the market), overcharged customers $13.4 billion a year from 2005 to 2009, hurting the nation’s economy. The OECD also recommended eliminating restrictions on foreign investment in telecommunication sand strengthening the powers of its phone regulators.
“Slim’s practices are like a virus—they continue to spread and multiply causing harm every where it goes,” added Aaron Black with Occupy Wall Street. “We can’t ignore him, he is aggressively growing his empire and we need to say no more.”
In addition to support from the Occupy movement, 132 will be joined by a handful of New York politicians. New York State Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez told Reuters he hopes the protest will raise awareness of the need for changes to Mexico’s regulatory system.
Slim’s business model “has led to price gouging and charges many of my constituents high prices,” New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat said at a press conference held by the coalition.
Slim’s spokespeople downplayed the significance of the protest, telling Reuters Two Countries One Voice is a paid movement, a claim whose roots appear to reside entirely in a statement made by Slim’s son-in-law, Arturo Elias Ayub, who said in a telephone interview with Reuters that a recent anti-Slim protest at George Washington University had been made up of people who were paid $20 or $30 to turn up.
Two Countries One Voice leader Andres Ramirez says the allegations are false, and while the group helped with transportation and lunch costs for people who had traveled a long distance to the university protest, no one had been paid just to protest.
Follow #occupysaks on Twitter this evening for updates from the protest.