Obituary: Manuel Ulloa Elias
Wednesday 12 August 1992
MANUEL ULLOA ELIAS was a man of many parts, among them flamboyant politician in his native Peru and successful businessman both at home and abroad.
A member of a distinguished diplomatic family, he exuded languid charm and cultivated a dilettantish 'playboy' reputation. He married four times, on the last occasion to a Yugoslav princess, and in his late sixties he was still featuring in the gossip columns as escort of models and socialites. Even when he was finance minister trying to renegotiate Peru's huge foreign debt, no schedule of meetings with creditors was too onerous to prevent him slipping away for a few hours in a night- club. He ran his own nightspot at one time - the Mau Mau in Buenos Aires.
Newspaper proprietor was another of Ulloa's many incarnations. He bought a controlling interest in the successful tabloid Expreso in the mid-1960s, and remained in control until it was expropriated by the radical military government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado in 1970. Expreso and its sister paper, Extra, were subsequently returned to their owners after civilians resumed power in Peru in 1980, and Ulloa kept up an active interest in setting editorial policy.
He also led an eventful political life. Ulloa was one of the founders of the Popular Action (Accion Popular) party in the late 1950s, a reformist grouping which reflected the rapid growth of a liberal middle class in a country traditionally dominated by landed interests and powerful banking and commercial families. Like the party leader, Fernando Belaunde Terry, an Arequipa aristocrat, Ulloa came from the traditional power groups himself, but he was interested in developing a stable civilian polity to replace the precarious, coup-prone system of his youth.
Ironically, he became a victim himself of the military coup against President Belaunde in 1968, and went into exile. He moved first to Buenos Aires and eventually settled in Spain. There he developed wheeler-dealing into a fine art, taking an active part in the tourism and property development boom on the Costa del Sol in the 1970s, among many other interests. He had got his start in business in Lima with WR Grace, the US-owned diversfied sugar and industrial group, where he married the daughter of the local manager. Then he moved to New York, working for the Rockefeller family's Deltec, a Latin American investment company, and came to be regarded by the Peruvian left as the very embodiment of foreign capital's control of Latin American economies.
Ulloa returned to Peru from the United States after Belaunde's election in 1963, and was briefly minister of finance in 1968, just before General Velasco's tanks smashed down the gates of the government palace and the president was bundled on to a plane to Buenos Aires in the middle of the night.
Ulloa got out, too, which made him more fortunate than some government colleagues, who spent long periods in prison on charges of corruption and betraying the national interest. The military were incensed by a big devaluation of the national currency in 1967 and some allegedly shady dealings between members of Belaunde's government and a subsidiary of the US oil company Exxon.
Ulloa was back in Peru by 1977, as the declining military regime cast around for a gracious way of withdrawing to barracks and letting the civilians take over the reins of government again. Ministers and officials of Belaunde's 1963-68 government flocked back home from often gilded exile in Washington, Geneva or wherever, and Ulloa was on hand when the old caudillo was elected president again by a landslide in 1980.
He had been put in charge of developing Popular Action's election platform on his return from Spain, and he was appointed both Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in Belaunde's first cabinet. One of his main tasks was to restore the country's credibility with the international financial community, a job he tackled with gusto. I was privileged to witness a virtuoso performance by Ulloa at a meeting of the Paris Club of Peru's official creditors in May 1981, when he effortlessly ran a press conference in three equally fluent languages - Spanish, French and English - before skipping the official reception afterwards and disappearing mysteriously into the Parisian night.
Things went well enough during the first year of Belaunde's second government, not least because the excellent international contacts of people like Ulloa ensured a healthy inflow of foreign loans. He also carried out Peru's first ever thoroughgoing tax reform, and made an unsuccessful attempt to open up the state-dominated, highly protected economy.
By the time the steam had started to go out of the Peruvian economic revival, Ulloa was gone - according to his account, powerful interests, angered by his tax reforms, were behind his departure. He subsequently became president of the Peruvian senate in 1985, and remained a senator- businessman for the rest of his life.
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