Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz, who died on 16 March at the age of 87, was a politician during the most brutal years of Argentina’s “dirty war” dictatorship and architect of some of the country’s most infamous economic experiments.
The former economy minister was under house arrest as part of an investigation into the kidnapping of two businessmen.
Martinez de Hoz’s name became a byword for economic mismanagement in Argentina, but his plan to get the troubled national economy in order was initially lauded on Wall Street. The banker David Rockefeller called his strategy “brilliant, solid and absolutely realistic”, describing how he promptly granted a Chase Bank loan to the country. Further credits followed. It was the start of a mounting debt crisis that critics say sowed the seeds for the country’s economic meltdown more than two decades later.
Argentina’s economy was in bad shape in 1976 when the newly installed military junta recruited Martinez de Hoz, who hailed from a wealthy ranching family and had close links to business. “I didn’t want to be minister,” he recalled, “but they threatened to put someone from the military in the job and, to avert disaster, I felt obliged to accept.”
His so-called Tablita [little table], a scheme aimed at letting the peso depreciate gradually and steadily against the dollar, shaped economic policy from 1978 until its acrimonious collapse in 1981, when when the collapse of industry sent the country into a deep recession and Martinez de Hoz was relieved of his duties. The country was left with a massive debt that was to plague it for decades.
Much later, in 2010, Martinez de Hoz was arrested and held on remand at his home as part of an investigation into allegations that he was involved in the kidnapping of two businessmen in 1976. Soon after his detention, his two sons Marcos and Jose Martinez de Hoz took out a paid advertisement in the leading newspaper Clarin in which they accused President Cristina Fernandez of waging a “persistent campaign of hate and persecution” against their father.
Martinez de Hoz was unrepentant about his policies and defended the brutal rule of the former dictator Jorge Videla, during which thousands of people were killed in a state crackdown on leftist dissent. “Videla had to defend society from the attacks of terrorist groups.” he said.