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Bankers cold shoulder populism

International
Mexico - Mexican financiers and politicians blasted populism at a top banking conference last week in a thinly veiled attack on the frontrunner for the 2018 presidential election - but some worry they overdid it and may have played right into his hands.

The chosen theme of the annual meeting at the beach resort of Acapulco was “liberalism versus populism,” with President Enrique Peña Nieto, senior ministers, former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell among the grandees squarely lined up on one side.

Without a voice but very much on the lips of the Mexicans was Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist former Mexico City mayor and twice presidential runner-up whose relentless campaigning has put him in contention to go one better in 2018.

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Mexico's Central Bank Governor Agustin Carstens is seen on a TV camera's viewfinder in Mexico City

Lopez Obrador’s broadsides against corruption and inequality sting a Mexican political establishment tainted by allegations of graft, even as US President Donald Trump’s populist jabs at Mexico have generated some sympathy for Peña Nieto at home.

After extensive security checks in this fabled tourist destination that today struggles with gang violence, Mexican bankers heard speakers condemn what Peña Nieto called the “easy escapes” and “magical solutions” of populism.

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Still, mindful of Trump’s shock victory across the border in November, several bankers said they would have liked to hear from populists, and for their lobby, the Mexican Banking Association (ABM), to avoid choosing sides.

“You have to be balanced and objective. Putting liberalism as all good and populism as all bad doesn’t represent what all banks want,” said Raul Martinez-Ostos, chief executive and president of Barclays Mexico.

The possibility of a Lopez Obrador victory in July 2018 is already causing nervousness among economists.

Luis Robles, the ABM’s president and chairperson of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria’s Mexico unit, Bancomer, said the point was not to pick sides, but to analyse a phenomenon.

Robles said the ABM did not invite Lopez Obrador because “he’s a politician and this is a banking convention.” 

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