(Reuters) - A coalition of immigrant rights’ groups, the Occupy Wall Street movement and New York politicians said on Monday they would stage a four-day protest against Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, outside Saks’ swanky Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan beginning on Tuesday.
The coalition, which calls itself ‘Two Countries One Voice’, is protesting business practices by Slim, who owns a stake in Saks Inc as well as cell phone and landline companies that dominate market share in his native Mexico.
“Carlos Slim is the (richest) 1 percent of the 1 percent,” said Occupy Wall Street representative George Martinez, speaking at a press conference in New York City to launch the protest. “This week you will see direct action ... to stop global monopolistic vampires.”
‘Two Countries One Voice’ is a loose coalition of about 50 organizations, according to leaders Andres Ramirez, a public relations executive in Las Vegas, and Los Angeles-based lawyer Juan Jose Gutierrez.
The coalition, funded by the groups within it, was formed earlier this year to protest the high phone rates Mexicans face when calling family in the United States.
Mexicans were overcharged $13.4 billion a year from 2005 to 2009 for phone and Internet services, according to a January report published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which was funded by the Mexican government.
Mexican home phone service is dominated by Slim’s Telefonos de Mexico, or Telmex,, which provides about 80 percent of services. Slim controls about 70 percent of the cellphone market through America Movil.
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 the press conference.
New York State Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez said that he hoped the protest would raise awareness of the need for changes to Mexico’s regulatory system.
Slim, whose fortune has been estimated at around $69 billion by Forbes magazine, has increasingly come under fire in Mexico for the high fees charged by his companies, but regulators have had limited success in diluting his dominance.
Slim’s spokespeople downplayed the planned protest outside Saks and said that ‘Two Countries One Voice’ was a paid movement.
The coalition protested against Slim at George Washington University in May when he gave the commencement address. Arturo Elias Ayub, Slim’s son-in-law and a spokesman for his companies, said in a telephone interview on Friday that the protest had been made up of people who were paid $20 or $30 to turn up.
Ayub said that not a single Hispanic had taken part in the protest at the university, and that when he and colleagues questioned the protestors, they said they did not know why they were there.
Two Countries’ Ramirez said the group had helped with transportation and lunch costs for people who had traveled a long distance, but he said no one had been paid just to protest.
Reporting by Nicola Leske in New York and Elinor Comlay in Mexico City; Editing by Toni Reinhold