A coalition of Latin American community organizers blasted criticism through megaphones outside the building that holds the University’s highest administrators Friday, demanding that GW sever ties with Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, who will receive an honorary degree Sunday at Commencement.
With a crowd of 30 protesters near the entrance of Rice Hall, the Latino leaders claimed Slim’s two telecommunication companies – which control more than 70 percent of Mexico’s cell phone service market – overcharge for their service, which disproportionately affects the nation's poor.
The demonstration comes on the heels of a letter sent Tuesday by the organization Two Countries One Voice to University President Steven Knapp, giving him 48 hours to rescind the Commencement honor and
invitation to Slim.
“It’s your future, and it’s your reputation. Unlike Slim, you’re actually paying and working hard to get your degree,” one of the organization’s leaders, Andrés Ramirez said.
In response to the letter, Vice President of External Relations Lorraine Voles invited Ramirez to meet May 11 to talk about his demands.
The meeting gave Ramirez a chance to air his concerns about Slim, which he said he saw as a “productive sign.” While no promises were made, he said he would press for more talks in the future.
University spokeswoman Candace Smith declined to comment on what was discussed at the meeting, but called the discourse “cordial.”
Ramirez promised the group would continue their efforts on campus until Commencement, but declined to comment on what actions they planned to take, because he did not want to disclose the group’s lobbying strategy. He said they will follow Slim across the country after next week and prevent him from speaking at events, putting out bids for companies and forming partnerships without his clients knowing about his allegedly manipulative business practices.
If Slim is honored at graduation, the University's reputation will be on the line and graduates’ degrees will be stained, one of the leaders of Two Countries One Voice, Juan Jose Gutiérrez, said. Gutiérrez said if GW does not respond to their demands, he would assume it is because Slim has donated to the University.
“We live in a corporate world where money talks, and we know this man has all the money in the world to make donations to the University, so it’s going to be a real uphill battle,” Gutiérrez said.
The University does not release information about individual donors without their consent, Smith said. She declined multiple requests for comment on whether Slim had donated.
The group claims Slim made monetary contributions to GW that led to his honor this year and in 2009, when he was presented the President’s Medal for international service. Ramirez did not provide proof to back up his claim that Slim donated to GW, but said contributions were “substantial.”
Sam Nelson, a junior and a member of the Progressive Student Union, joined the cause after he was approached by the Two Countries One Voice’s leaders. He said for the past week, he has been trying to extend the campaign’s on-campus reach by including student organizations such as GW Stand and Amnesty International.
“I want to make sure that when a student graduates…all the people there represent their values, and I don’t think Carlos Slim represents the values of many GW students,” Nelson said.
Ramirez said the target of his organizations' criticism is Slim, not the University.
“Part of our job is to raise awareness of this issue, and Carlos Slim is coming to the United States," he said. "This is where we’re based, so we want awareness. The first major point that we can make – and is available to us – is GW."