Carlos Slim, Lydia Cacho, and the Women of Mexico

Gathered around the man from one of Mexico’s oldest, wealthiest families, the small convocation of Americans expected the colorful charm and elegant manners gringos fantasize Mexican aristocrats will have. They were in for a shock.

“Women should be beaten,” he said “It makes them feel loved!” Opening his shirt to the waist, he held forth: “I gave a speech to women in Mexico City, and I told them that being beaten is good for them, and I told them: Shut up. Men hate you to talk so much, so, of course, they beat you.” Guests slipped away in dazed silence, led by a woman recently abused by her lawyer lover in San Miguel.

The only one remaining – an American journalist – vociferously refuted the aristocrat’s theory that women “feel loved” when bludgeoned and violated. Over succeeding months, conversations continued, deepening. But eventually, machismo, the licentious use and abuse of women on every conceivable level, proved too much of a temptation, and el caballero went to war, initiating a siege of harassment, character assassination, and slander – and enrolling vulnerable friends as proxy-punishers in internet slander and the intimidation of local businesses to deny services. Finally, there was a death threat el caballero five times refused to deny sourcing. A lawyer for la Americana sent a sharp warning, but legal contests between Mexicans and foreigners strongly favor the native-born. But more to the point, strongly favored are those who are monied, positioned, and male. ...

A Deadly Machismo

Mexican machismo has always suffered a deservedly tawdry notoriety. It seems merely silly and a little embarrassing in Dos Equis’ self-proclaimed “most interesting man in the world” – surrounded by women one-quarter his age and advising aspiring machos to “stay thirsty” – but it is a crushing and devastating reality on the ground in Mexico. It is an inviolable rule of the country’s social law, supported by corrupt courts and sniggering federales and policia, that women may be abused with nearly total impunity. Cases of rape, aggravated assault, and even murder rarely make it to indictment. Police refuse to investigate at all – or force trembling complainants to serve papers on their own abusers. If the Vatican does not outright support this subjugation, its continued silence certainly appears to confer consent, especially when the Vatican beatifies a woman, beaten by her husband for years, for the bloodied martyrhood of staying in her marriage.

Ritual Femicide in Juarez

Misogyny is most evident in Juarez, where femicide has reached staggering levels. The “official” count of viciously raped, brutally slaughtered young women stands at just 400, but no fair witness in Juarez believes the number of los feminicidios is fewer than 5,000. No one has been tried for the murder of any of these women, most of whom have died in drug cartel initiation rites.

The courts and law enforcement do less than nothing about it. On December 16, 2010, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz was shot dead at the Chihuahua state capital building while demanding justice for her destroyed, mutilated sixteen-year-old daughter. Police on the scene took no action. On January 6, 2011, poetess and anti-feminicidios activist Susana Chavez Castillo was lured to her death by three men who strangled and drowned her and chopped off a hand. The official story – replete with tender exonerations of the slaughterers for having been drunk, drugged-up, and “scared” – is that the murder was an “accident.” Nobody in Juarez buys that one, either.

What all this has to do with Mexican Carlos Slim Helu, the wealthiest man in the world, and Lydia Cacho, arguably the most decorated living feminist, is this: If a solution is to be found to the violent repression of women’s rights in Mexican machismo culture, it is likely these two who will effect it.

Lydia Cacho: Crying Out in the Wilderness

Lydia Cacho Ribeiro’s case is legendary. A renowned journalist and founder of the Cancun women’s shelter, Cacho was arrested, tortured, and threatened with rape and murder after publishing an expose on pedophilia and illicit sex trade that implicated powerful Mexican businessman Kamel Nacif Borge. Initial attempts to press a case against the police resulted in a stunning rebuff by the courts – and immediate offers of asylum from France, Spain, and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights – but tapes of Nacif’s conversations with a governor proved their culpability.

Honored by International Pen, International Press Institute, Human Rights Watch, UNESCO, and the US Department of State, Cacho refuses to leave Mexico, despite continuing death threats. “When I was tortured and imprisoned … ,” she says, “I was confronted with the dilemma … ‘Should I continue to practice journalism in a country controlled by only 300 powerful men, corrupted and rich?’ Of course the answer was ‘Yes!’”

Carlos Slim: a Grand Possibility

But hopefully not alone. Carlos Slim is already involved in women’s rights through Slim's partnership with Grameen, and he bears none of the soiled pseudo-superiority of Mexican male aristocrats preaching the glories of wife-beating in plush bars. His own behavior has been exemplary: not one incidence of cruelty toward or disrespect of a woman can be attributed to him in all of his 69 years. He who has organized meetings of Fathers and Sons – for mentoring of the next generation of the male business elite of Latin America by their billionaire fathers – is the most rarefied possibility for the founding of Father and Daughters, the companion instrument for the empowerment of the first generation of Mexican and Latin American women to gain full rights, equality under the law, and personal, public economic freedom in a society drawn down by a debauched machismo, debased violence and discrimination. It will take more than the Daughters of Mexico. It will take the Fathers of Mexico, too.

There are magnificent, truly good men in Mexico, but what sets Slim apart even from the best is that he may be the only one who can effect this transformation. Misogyny starts at the top in Mexico, and as it is transformed at the top, Mexican society will follow the example. Slim can do that not only because he has the power, influence and resources to take it on, but also because he exhibits the kind of character and integrity that demand a hearing, even of the most arrogant, jaded and brutal at the top of Mexican society. In this, Lydia Cacho is his equal, and he will need her fearless and intelligent compatriotism. For as John Jay Chapman pointed out: “Reform always consists in taking a bone from a dog.” And this snarling pit bull of a social problem is big, it is vicious, and it is dangerous.

As for la Americana, she is writing a book about living in Mexico, a profoundly cautionary tale for Americans contemplating residency here, but also a journal of the extraordinary beauty and goodness of the Mexican people as a whole, a people held hostage by corruption and deep, terrifying threat. Lydia Cacho remains Mexico’s most inspiring citizen, and Carlos Slim, his country’s best hope.


“2005: Mexico: Lydia Cacho: Arrested, Threatened.” International Pen honorees, 2005.

Blacker, Terence. “Mexico: These Reporters Risking Their Lives Deserve Respect.” International Pen. 27 January 2010.

Bruton, F. Brinley. “Mexico under Siege amid War on Drug Cartels.” MSNBC. 2 March 2009

Chapman, John J.

Dolan, Kerry A. “Secret Meeting of Latin American Billionnaires.” 23 May 2003.

“Grameen Trust, Carlos Slim Foundation launch Mexico’s $45 Million Microfinance Program.” Microfinance Focus. 25 September 2009.

“John Paul beatifies Zairean, Italian women.” National Catholic Reporter. 6 May 1994.

“Mexico: The Second Assault: III: Impunity for Sexual and Domestic Violence.” Human Rights Watch World Report.

Trionfi, Barbara. “Mexican Journalist Lydia Cacho Named IPI Press Freedom Hero.” 29 April 2010. International Press Institute.

Torres, Olivia. “Mexico Outraged by Killing of Anti-Crime Crusader.” Huffington Post. 18 December 2010.

Villanueva, Carol. “Juarez Female Homicides activist Susana Chavez murdered in Mexico.”

“Women’s Struggle for Justice and Safety: Violence in the Family in Mexico.” Amnesty International. London. 2008.

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