Antonio Ortiz Mena, 99; Inter-American Bank Chief

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Antonio Ortiz Mena, 99, the former three-term president of the Inter-American Development Bank and Mexico's finance minister during that nation's robust growth in the 1960s, died March 12 at a hospital in Mexico City from a fall at his home.

Mr. Ortiz Mena lived in Potomac during his 17 years as the head of the 44-nation bank, nearly doubling its membership and expanding its ordinary capital resources tenfold. Its lending rose from $652 million to $2.4 billion during his tenure, the bank said, with no write-offs.

He resigned in 1988, three years short of the end of his term, because of increased tensions between Latin American countries and the Reagan administration, which wanted a greater say in the operation of the bank. In 1985, Secretary of State George P. Shultz intervened in an unprecedented attempt to block a vote on a $58 million loan to Nicaragua, then led by a leftist government.

Under Mr. Ortiz Mena's management, the bank established a successful small projects program that made credit available to groups that previously had little or no access to capital. The organization also gave grants and technical help for agricultural, environmental and public health projects and worked on regional cooperation.

Highly cultivated, Mr. Ortiz Mena was interested in the arts, music, history, philosophy and rare books. He was well-liked by bank staffers, who respectfully called him "Don Antonio." He returned the consideration, addressing his subordinates as "fellow workers," bank staff members said.

Born in Parral in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, he graduated from Mexico's National Autonomous University's Law School. He began working for the government in 1932, strengthening the finances and streamlining administration of the Mexican Social Security Institute, which led to an expansion of hospitals and low-income housing and the establishment of Mexico City's family medical system.

Mr. Ortiz Mena became the country's minister of finance in 1958, and for the next 12 years, under two presidents, his "stabilizing development" policies resulted in the most prolonged and robust period of prosperity in the country's history.

After failing in an attempt to be nominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party for president, Mr. Ortiz Mena left the Mexican government and was elected president of the IADB. He returned to Mexico after his resignation and became director of Banamex.

He was a member of the Metropolitan Club in Washington.

Survivors include his wife, Martha Salinas de Ortiz Mena of Mexico City; six children; and 70 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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