Mexico and Spain: what is the power of Spanish companies in the Aztec country (and what are AMLO's complaints about them) - Start Up Gazzete
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Mexico and Spain: what is the power of Spanish companies in the Aztec country (and what are AMLO’s complaints about them)


When the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, proposed this Wednesday to “pause relations” with Spain, it caused a true tsunami on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although he clarified minutes later that this did not mean an end to diplomatic relations between the two countries but rather “a comment, a talk” rather informal, his words went a step further in his already tense relationship with Spain, whose King he asked three years -unsuccessfully- to apologize for the excesses committed during the Conquest.

After the controversy caused by his ambiguous statements, AMLO was forced this Thursday to qualify them. “There is no talk of rupture but of a fraternal protest,” he said, directing his criticism specifically towards the Spanish companies present in the Aztec country.

“We have intimate relations with the people of Spain, but in recent times during the neoliberal period, Spanish companies supported by political power, both from Spain and Mexico, abused our country and our people, they saw us as a land of conquest “, he assured.

Madrid responded this Thursday that it “categorically rejects the disqualifications” of AMLO against Spain and its companies. “The government wants relations based on mutual respect, as the Spanish and Mexicans want, without this type of demonstration,” the Spanish government said in a statement.

Although none have been denounced in court by the Mexican government, Spanish companies have been singled out on many occasions by AMLO since he came to power. He accuses them of having signed contracts under advantageous conditions and under conflicts of interest with past governments of Mexico.

Despite the usual message, experts warn that the impact that this position of the president could have for both countries and on the confidence of Spanish companies should not be overlooked, taking into account their important investment role in Mexico.

What is the presence in Mexico of Spanish companies?

Spain is, in fact, the second country that invests the most in Mexico -only behind the United States- through 7,000 companies dedicated to sectors ranging from electricity to banking.

During the first nine months of 2021, Spanish investment was US$76 billion, which represents 12% of Mexico’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

Main investor countries in Mexico (2010-2020). (millions of dollars). .

Some of the Spanish companies have already become a very important part of Mexican culture and the day-to-day life of its population.

A clear example is BBVA and Santander, distinguished as the two largest banks in the country. CriteriaCaixa has a 9.1% stake in Inbursa, the financial group of billionaire Carlos Slim. Banco Sabadell, for its part, has been operating in Mexico since 2014.

In the telecommunications sector, Telefónica Movistar is the second operator in Mexico with just over 20% of mobile Internet access lines, only behind Slim’s Telcel firm.

Iberdrola , for its part, is the largest private producer of electricity in Mexico. It serves more than 20 million people and in 2019 it generated 16% of the country’s energy. Gas Natural Fenosa is also present in the Aztec country.

In hydrocarbons, Repsol had some 250 service stations in Mexico at the end of 2020. Cepsa operates through its network of Red Energy stations.

In addition, Spanish investment is the second most important for the Mexican tourism industry, especially in the Cancun and Riviera Maya area. In 2018, it amounted to US$213 million.

An Iberdrola power plant
Iberdrola is the largest private electricity producer in Mexico.

“All these companies are very important and show that one out of every ten dollars that arrive in Mexico in terms of foreign investment comes from Spain, which is a lot,” says Ana Bertha Gutiérrez , coordinator of Foreign Trade and the Labor Market at the Instituto Mexican for Competitiveness (IMCO).

The expert warns of the danger of dismissing the importance of Spain as a strong weight for the Mexican economy, “especially when we know that investment in the country has been declining since 2019.”

“This investment generates new companies and new jobs, which are fundamental conditions to improve the living conditions of our population. Definitely, both countries benefit from this relationship,” he adds in an interview with BBC Mundo.

In Spain, the seventh country to which most exports are made from Mexico, there is also a Mexican investment that exceeds US$25,000 million, the Spanish government highlighted in its statement in which it described both countries as “strategic partners”.


What are AMLO’s criticisms?

AMLO has pointed out on countless occasions the abusive conditions in which some Spanish companies supposedly operate in the country thanks to the support of previous governments. “In each six-year term there was a favorite company in Spain,” he said this Thursday.

“We are talking about subsidies, money from all Mexicans that, instead of being used to lift the people out of poverty, was used to favor these companies,” he assured at a press conference. “Corruption is no longer accepted,” she remarked.

Thus, he criticized, for example, that Iberdrola became “a kind of monopoly in Mexico and received privileged treatment” during the government of Felipe Calderón, whom he recalled came to work on the Board of Directors of the electricity company after his term together with who was his Secretary of Energy.


Ignacio Sánchez Galán , president of the Spanish electricity company, who has already legally appealed several measures adopted by the AMLO government, assured at the end of 2020 that Iberdrola had completed the planned investment in the Latin American country and that it would not initiate new actions if the Mexican government did not I wanted it.

AMLO made these statements while his electrical reform, one of his star projects that aims to strengthen the state company to the detriment of private companies, is being debated in Congress.

Of the construction company OHL, the president said that “it was the favorite company in the past six-year term (of former President Enrique Peña Nieto)”. The company was involved in controversy during the past government due to the leaking of conversations that pointed to alleged corruption by government officials and managers who ended up leaving the company.

De Repsol assured that “only the analysis of how much they took from Mexico in the Calderón government, only how much money they obtained from the public budget, would help to understand that it was an abuse.”

He also directed his darts at BBVA. “The president of the Bancomer board, which now belongs to Spanish businessmen, spoke out against me saying that he was a populist (…). Well, how did they feel? The owners of the country.”

Kings of Spain
AMLO’s relationship with Spain has suffered moments of great tension, such as when he demanded that the Spanish King apologize for the excesses committed during the Conquest.

From the IMCO, Gutiérrez does not rule out that abuses may have been committed in some cases of Spanish companies, but he recalls the importance that the accusations are backed by investigations that prove it.

“You cannot simply make statements on the air if they are not accompanied by legal action and legal action,” he says.

For the expert, “it is a mistake to generalize the possible cases that may exist and ‘infect’ all other Spanish investments in the country. It is a mistake to see them all as the same thing and, definitely, it is a mistake to see them as something harmful for Mexico”.

How could it affect Spanish investment in Mexico?

Thus, although AMLO’s criticism of the Spanish business community is already common in his rhetoric, Gutiérrez asks not to minimize its possible impact.

“These events attack the certainty of investments in the country (…). If the president is questioning investments from specific countries, it will undoubtedly have an effect on the decisions of those investors as to where to direct their resources,” the IMCO analyst thinks.

“And it is bad news if we see that other countries such as China, Singapore or India are having a boost to see themselves as more attractive investment destinations, while in Mexico it is unfortunate that the same is not happening.”

Spanish investment in the tourism sector is especially focused on enclaves in the Mexican Caribbean.

At least until a few days before these controversial statements by AMLO, Spain claimed to remain determined to bet on its strategic investment in Mexico.

As an example, the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Mexico (Camescom) highlighted on February 4 how the global foreign investment received by Mexico in 2020 fell by 19%. However, that from Spain only decreased by 1%.

“This demonstrates, once again, the commitment and vocation of permanence of Spanish investment in the country,” the agency stressed in a statement.

It remains to be seen if there will be changes in his strategy after this new escalation in the tension of AMLO’s relationship with the Spanish business community.



  • Marcos Gonzalez Diaz
  • BBC News World correspondent in Mexico
Author avatar
Joshua Smith

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