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ARGENTINA: Assistant Dictator

2 minute read

“I am the financial and economic dictator of Argentina,” crowed Miguel Miranda to a friend last week. As Juan Perón’s closest adviser and president of Argentina’s newly nationalized Central Bank (TIME, April 8), the portly, fiftyish tin-can manufacturer was feeling his oats. A sweeping governmental decree had just handed him such economic power as few men had held outside Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy.

All bank deposits and practically all loans were placed under Central Bank control. Henceforth, Miranda’s bank would make all the decisions that individual bankers used to make. The Central Bank would merely pay them for handling deposits for it. Thus, when Juan Perón took office June 4, his government would get control of $2 billion in deposits (just when it needed a billion to meet expenses), would have a hammer lock on credit that would permit withholding loans from individuals or institutions.

All this sounded as though only a Nazi could have prepared it—and apparently one had. He was natty 42-year-old Dr. Heinrich Dörge, reputedly the favorite disciple of Dr. Hjalmar Schacht and Schacht’s right-hand man in running Germany’s famed Industrial Credit Bank. Just after Pearl Harbor, Dörge had drifted to Argentina via the U.S. and Chile. He reportedly became Miranda’s confidant and idea-man in his rise to power with Perón.

Buenos Aires bankers, Argentine and foreign, were mostly too stunned and too scared by the shattering decree to talk. Gloomed one: “We must play for time and endeavor to save as much from the wreck as possible.” First reports that the decree might cost as much as 80% of their business appeared to be exaggerated. They could probably still make good money if they submitted to orders. The U.S.-owned National City Bank and “Boston Bank” (as Argentines call the Argentine branch of Boston’s First National) prepared to get along with Perón on his terms. Said the Boston Bank’s Vice President W. Latimer Gray: “We’ve been in business 30 years there, and expect to stay at least 30 more.”

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