Dustin Slaughter

Dustin Slaughter
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
August 27
Writer, photojournalist, and activist. Interests: political movements, criminal justice, and surveillance.

Editor’s Pick
MAY 14, 2012 8:55AM

Standing Up to The Richest Man on Earth

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Why is an international coalition of activists and business interests taking on a respected university - and one of the most powerful men in the world?

A protester outside George Washington University. Photo: Dustin Slaughter

An honorable degree?

“I am concerned that George Washington University – an American icon – is sending the wrong message to Mexicans wanting to come to this country to work hard and build a life,” Jeffrey Brewer, an Occupy D.C. Protester, says to me.

“What are George Washington University's values? Do they want to hold up exploitation as a legitimate business model?” he adds.

About 30 protesters (a mix of Occupy participants as well as members of a coalition called Two Countries, One Voice) are outside GW University posing this question to the institution on May 11th, 2012, while a handful meet with administrators inside. Their stated goal is convincing the university to cancel a decision to give an honorary degree to Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, at their May 20th commencement ceremony.

Their questions and anger are valid, considering that this esteemed institution wants to honor a tycoon accused of overcharging poor and working class Mexicans to the tune of $6 billion per year in cell and landline fees. Slim has a net worth of $69 billion dollars.

Slim has amassed this unimaginable wealth by owning 90% of Mexico's telecommunication services and over 220 companies under the corporate behemoth Grupo Carso (basically giving Slim a 7% stake in Mexico's GDP.)

In a country where the average citizen earns $15 per day and the per capita income is a little over $14,000 a year, one might wonder what George Washington University sees in this man to bestow an honorary degree.

The university touts Slim's philanthropy as sufficient cause for honoring him. Problematic, however, is the fact that alleged philanthropic endeavors, such as the Fundación Carlos Slim Helú, are not required by Mexican law to publish financial information, so there is no way to confirm how much of his wealth has actually gone to improving the lives of people in Mexico. Carlos Slim has been publicly critical of charitable giving from billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

George Washington University has not responded to a request for comment.

A protester implores university officials to break ties with Carlos Slim. Photo: Dustin Slaughter

Two Peoples United

“The first part of the plan is to force the university to sever ties with Slim,” Two Countries, One Voice organizer David Abrams tells me on the car ride over to the rally, “although I doubt they're going to cancel his commencement invite. After that, we begin targeting American industries who maintain business relationships with him,” including calls for boycotts which he and others plan on carrying on long after the May 20th event. According to him, there may be hunger strikes involved too.

Companies in which Slim has stakes include Apple, Citigroup, and even the New York Times – which borrowed $240 million from him at a whopping 14% interest rate.

What does it take to stand up to the wealthiest man in the world? This coalition may have a fighting chance. The group is composed of a wide range of organizations, such as Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica (COFEM) and Nevada's Latin Chamber of Commerce. It is worth noting that the Chamber's membership has some heavy hitters on its board, and may have commercial interests in any successful outcome.

Abrams's work on the ground has also brought members of Occupy Wall Street into the fold, he tells me. “It was a pretty easy sell,” he says of the effort. “After all, Carlos Slim IS the 1%.”

Check out Salon writer Adam Clarke Estes' comprehensive background on Carlos Slim from March 8th, 2011.

This article is crossposted at The David and Goliath Project. Follow @DustinSlaughter on Twitter for live NATO protest updates from Chicago starting next weekend.

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"accused of overcharging poor and working class Mexicans to the tune of $6 billion per year in cell and landline fees"

Please tell me how this man is "overcharging" the people of Mexico? Are they being more overcharged than you are by Sprint or ATT? BTW, define overcharging? Do you expect him to give his services away for free?

Is this man more "evil" than say Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? How about his man is good at managing his businesses and he got rich doing it. You are jealous. Period.
What percentage of an average person's income goes to Grupo Carso? How does it compare to the U.S.?
Does the problem lie with Slim and Grupo Carso, or with the Mexican government which apparently allows monopoly? I suspect that Slim is a ruthless a**hole, but no worse than others in international corporations.

My sentiments are with the Mexican people. I suspect that they, like their neighbors to the near north, have no real voice in government: the government has been hijacked by business interests. r
"George Washington University has not responded to a request for comment."

The university has responded to inquiries about this topic. But the university Office of Media Relations did not receive an inquiry from Dustin Slaughter. Carlos Slim has been invited to receive an honorary degree as part of the George Washington University’s commencement in recognition of his contributions to business and community development in Mexico and Latin America, and his extensive philanthropic work, which has led to improvements and investments in education, health care, employment and the fine arts, among others. The university is looking forward to Mr. Slim’s participation in commencement along with fellow honorary degree recipients Brian Williams of NBC News and artist and GW alumna Clarice Smith.
Candace Smith, spokeswoman for the George Washington University
Do we have proof that this man has ever been convicted of any crimes in the accumulation of his wealth? Do we have proof that, other than taking advantage of the free market system ( to the extent that such a system exists in Mexixo) Slim is any guilter of the new unspeakable crime of "wealth creation" than any of our own coporate stalwarts who create jobs here in America adn raise the standard of living for untold number sof persons? I write as a free market liberal democrat deeply disturbed at the automatic demonization of the rich for being rich. What exactly are the fundamental principles violated here that the protesters seek to avow?
Hate to say it, but your link did not lead to any info on Slim, a a fact which I found somewhat dismaying. It led, instead, to an article at Forbes about advice given by billionaires at various graduation ceremonies. I guess I'd reset it for where it might lend weight to your point instead.