Could his last act in Mexico City ruin Carlos Slim?

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim on a tour of his Plaza Carso real estate development in 2010. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim on a tour of his Plaza Carso real estate development in 2010. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)

By Feike de Jong / The Guardian

It is sometimes hard to tell where Carlos Slim stops and Mexico City starts. He controls most of the mobile phone, landline and internet markets. His telecoms company, Telmex, installed the city’s surveillance cameras. Grupo Carso, his flagship infrastructure conglomerate, runs the city’s principle water treatment plant. His bank, Inbursa, is Mexico’s sixth largest. He even owns the city’s only aquarium.

In 2015 Slim’s companies accounted for 6% of the entire country’s GDP, according to the Mexican media outlet El Universal. These holdings run parallel to a vast network of strategically located retail properties. But more than anywhere or anyone else, the 77-year-old tycoon and sometime world’s richest man has grown with the capital. Like a ghost in a shell, Carlos Slim has become part of Mexico City’s urban fabric.

Now, in the autumn of his career, the Valley of Mexico – Slim’s canvas – is running out of space.

The only large open area remaining lies to the east, amid the swampland of Texcoco – almost all that is left of the once-great lake system that filled the basin.

This is where the man known as el Ingeniero, the engineer, will make what is likely to be his last great urban intervention: a massive new airport, expected to be the third-largest in the world.

The stakes are high, and not just for Slim. Should this project be a success, it will be his crowning glory, a symbol of his role in shaping Mexican modernity and a great gateway for the country’s global ambitions. Should it be a fiasco, future generations will see it as an ostentatious monument in an era long on mathematics and short on wisdom, in which natural resources existed to be consumed, megaprojects were a way to keep the poor fed and occupied, and the future was an afterthought.

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