Mexican billionaire sees growth opportunity after earthquake

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexico’s richest man, telecom magnate Carlos Slim, said Tuesday that reconstruction from two destructive earthquakes last month will create jobs and spur growth and announced that more than US$100 million has been raised for relief efforts.

Tens of thousands of homes and apartments were destroyed and will have to be rebuilt following the September 19 magnitude-7.1 quake, which killed 369 people, and an earlier, even more powerful one that struck in southern Mexico on September 7 with a magnitude of 8.1.

Slim said Mexico City, which was hard-hit by the later quake, should turn in its recovery phase to the kind of high-rise developments he has constructed.

“Even though it was a very sad tragedy … it will be a big factor in spurring economic activity and employment,” Slim said during a news conference called by his charitable foundation.

Slim, who at one time was estimated to be the world’s wealthiest person, did not appear concerned about the state of the economy in Mexico, where the peso has fallen nearly six per cent against the US dollar in the last three weeks.

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim gives a press conference in Mexico City on October 10. – AP

That drop has been blamed on fears of a possible impasse in renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But Slim said World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that would kick in if the NAFTA talks founder are sufficient.

“The WTO rules are very stimulating for commerce,” he said.

Slim said private donors have raised the equivalent of about US$22 million for earthquake relief and his foundation matched those donations five to one, for a total of US$134 million.

The money will be used for immediate housing and food for quake victims as well as shoring up damaged historic churches and buildings while experts decide how to restore them. The funds will also go to rebuilding hospitals and schools and “constructing better housing, respecting the uses and customs of each place”.