Lopez Obrador's Clash With Mexico's Business Elite Is Escalating

(Bloomberg) -- Prominent businessmen in Mexico are calling out presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador after he accused them of profiting from corruption and using their influence to sway economic policies.

Alejandro Ramirez, chief executive officer of the world’s fourth-largest cinema chain, Cinepolis de Mexico SA, is leading the charge, saying businessmen are worried that someone who aspires to be president should resort to divisive language. He went on to accuse Lopez Obrador of trying to stamp out dissent, using tactics similar to those of President Donald Trump.

The criticism comes as Lopez Obrador cements his lead in polls with the backing of about 48 percent of likely voters, according to Bloomberg’s Poll Tracker. The leftist candidate has at times labeled business leaders part of the "mafia of power" and more recently said they were “traffickers of influence” more than businessmen. He has also given mixed signals about landmark legislation like the energy reform that opened up the sector to private investment.

"We’re in complete disagreement with the insults Lopez Obrador used to refer to us," Ramirez said in a phone interview. "The disparaging remarks don’t help to generate trust. Saying we’re to blame for the country’s problems is unacceptable and I find it offensive."

Lopez Obrador accused business leaders including Ramirez of meeting with presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya of the PAN-PRD coalition to tell him to stop threatening to investigate President Enrique Pena Nieto and instead try to unite with the ruling PRI party.

Three of Mexico’s largest business chambers -- the CCE, Coparmex and the Mexican Business Council -- have all accused Lopez Obrador of sowing discord.

Ramirez says certain traits he sees in Lopez Obrador remind him of Trump. "Every American businessman was afraid of a tweet from Trump, so most kept quiet," he said. "We’re seeing something similar in Mexico where there’s little tolerance of criticism, and that hurts freedom of expression."

The group he represents is willing to sit down with Lopez Obrador and find middle ground, he said, but only if it’s done within a "climate of respect."

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