| BUENOS AIRES, March 16
BUENOS AIRES, March 16 Jose Alfredo Martinez de
Hoz, economy minister during the most brutal years of
Argentina's "dirty war" dictatorship and architect of some of
the crisis-prone nation's most infamous economic experiments,
has died at age 87.
The former economy chief, who was under house arrest as part
of an investigation into the kidnapping of two businessmen, died
on Saturday in Buenos Aires, local newspapers reported on their
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.
Prominent U.S. banker David Rockefeller called his strategy
"brilliant, solid and absolutely realistic" in a 1978 interview,
describing how he promptly granted a Chase Bank loan to the
country. Further credits followed.
It was the start of a mounting foreign debt that critics say
sowed the seeds for the country's economic meltdown more than
two decades later when a deep crisis unleashed the biggest
sovereign default in history.
Argentina's economy was in bad shape in 1976 when the newly
installed military junta tapped Martinez de Hoz, who hailed from
a wealthy farming family and had close links to business, to
take on the job as economy minister.
His first challenge was to tackle spiraling inflation.
"I didn't want to be minister," he said in an interview in
2007. "(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
U.S. dollar, shaped economic policy from 1978 until its
acrimonious collapse in 1981.
The peso's over-valuation caused a gaping balance of
payments deficit to develop by 1980, fueling capital flight,
battering local export industries and ushering in a period known
as "sweet money" (plata dulce).
Argentines flush with over-valued pesos took holidays abroad
and famously came home loaded with foreign-made goods.
But in 1981, when the collapse of industry sent the country
into a deep recession, Martinez de Hoz's Tablita was put to rest
and a devaluation followed.
Leaving the country with a massive debt that was to plague
it for decades, it marked the end of Martinez de Hoz's career as
It did not mark the end of his troubles, however.
Nicknamed Joe or Josecito, Martinez de Hoz was arrested in
2010 and held on remand at his home as part of an investigation
into allegations he was involved in the kidnapping of two
businessmen, Federico Gutheim and his son Miguel. Martinez de
Hoz denied any links to the case.
Soon after his detention, his sons Marcos and Jose Martinez
de Hoz took out a paid advertisement in leading newspaper Clarin
in which they accused President Cristina Fernandez of waging a
"persistent campaign of hate and persecution" against their
father through the courts.
Martinez de Hoz was unrepentant about his policies and
defended the brutal rule of former dictator Jorge Videla, during
which thousands of people were killed in a state crackdown on
"(Videla) had to defend society from the attacks of
terrorist groups," he said in the same 2007 interview.