Mexican phone firm taps into anti-U.S. feeling

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MEXICO CITY - A TV commercial by Telmex, Mexico's dominant telephone company, features a fictitious American called Burton Helm that taps into Mexican hostility toward America in its war with U.S. rival AT&T for long-distance customers.

The commercial features a villainous looking American, named Burton Helms, who tells the audience he will come to Mexico to take their money. The metaphor will not be lost on the audience in Mexico, who are well aware of the U.S.' controversial Helms-Burton Act, which punishes foreign companies for trading with Cuba.

The 75-year-old Republican Senator from North Carolina, Jesse Helms, is co-sponsor of the Helms-Burton Act. The arch conservative is the nemesis of many of America's trading partners. The law prohibits foreign companies from using property in Cuba once owned by former Cubans who fled to the U.S. when Castro took power. Foreign companies, many of them in Mexico, are punished for violating the law by losing executives' rights to American visas. It has produced a storm of controversy in Mexico.

Ironically, Telmex is partly owned by Southwestern Bell, a U.S. telecommunications company. Telmex's agency is J. Walter Thompson.

AT&T has launched a long distance service which enables Mexicans to make collect calls to the U.S. Callers use an 800 number which connects with Spanish-speaking AT&T operators in the U.S.

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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