Other areas dominated by one or two companies include cement, soft drinks, cold meats, confectionaries, cornmeal (tortillas), domestic appliances and glass. Two companies control much of the distribution of medicine and health and beauty products.
Such concentration accelerated in the late 1980s, when then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari began selling hundreds of state-owned companies, in some cases transferring monopolies to private hands. Thats how Slim came to be the owner in 1990 of Telefonos de Mexico, SA, or Telmex, which until that time had been the state-owned telephone monopoly.
Slim, the portly son of a Lebanese immigrant whose surname was Salim, was given six years to operate domestic and international long-distance service without competition, enough to fence the market. Telmex now pockets 87 percent of all revenues from fixed-line phone use. Slim, whos passed U.S. billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to top the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a fortune of $65.7 billion, is dozens of times more wealthy than any other Mexican mogul.
There are people who admire him. They say, Why criticize Carlos Slim? We should be proud, said Purificacion Carpinteyro, a former undersecretary of communications in the government of President Felipe Calderon.
Even as monopolists tamp Mexican growth, the 72-year-old Slim is a case study on how the impact of Mexicos dysfunctional system spills into the United States. In 2009, Slim reached into his deep pockets and bailed out an iconic institution, The New York Times, with a loan of $250 million, which it since has paid back. He also began amassing its stock. Slim and his family are the largest shareholders, after members of the companys founding family, in whats arguably the most influential news organization in the United States.
Has Slims stake influenced the newspapers coverage of his fortune or Mexico? A Times spokeswoman, Abbe Serphos, says emphatically no: The New York Times maintains the highest standards of journalistic ethics.
Slim spends most of his time in Mexico City, reportedly padding around the office of his umbrella Grupo Carso in socks. But he also flies off to attend games of his beloved New York Yankees and to pass out advice, as he did in a brief speech May 20 while picking up an honorary degree from George Washington University in Washington.
Live without fears and without guilt, he told the graduates.
Slims fortune is equivalent to about 7 percent of Mexicos economic output, and he rules over a workforce of 209,000. His companies penetrate Mexican life from insurance and home sales to the ubiquitous Sanborns restaurants, Sears Roebuck de Mexico and El Globo pastry shops, to mention just a few.
Its his vast reach into cellular and fixed-line phones that underscores his grip on the economy. Of Mexicos 94.5 million cellular subscribers, 70 percent are clients of Slims Telcel. The vast majority use prepaid plans that cost them as much as 28 cents per minute if they dial clients of a competing system.
Telcel rates are high, keeping many Mexicans from subscribing. Mexico has 84 cellphones per 100 people, among the lowest penetrations in the Western Hemisphere. The average for Latin American countries is 109 phones per 100 residents.
These high prices are what is behind the fortune of Carlos Slim and what has made him the worlds richest man, said Alejandro Calvillo, the head of an activist group, Power to the Consumer.