Jose Manuel Suarez Mier died unexpectedly of natural causes on August 3 in Washington, three weeks after the most recent installment of his widely-read series about Mexico (“Mexico’s demolition derby: new areas to obliterate”).
He was 74, and is survived by his three daughters and his beloved partner of many years Ms Adrian Small. He had contributed to Asia Times from the founding of our print edition in the mid-1990s. He was a major presence in Spanish-language journalism, writing a weekly column for Mexico’s leading national daily Excelsior.
Manuel was my friend since 1988, when he served as economic counsellor at Mexico’s Embassy in Washington. Over the years he became a close friend as well as a valued colleague. When I directed fixed income research at Bank of America in 2002, I persuaded him to return to Washington as the bank’s chief economist for Latin America.
He was one of a handful of men and women I have met in my lifetime whom one could trust without qualification to do the right thing in the right way. Manuel was utterly fearless and incapable of compromise on matters of principle.
Asia Times readers gleaned something of his personality from his magisterial indictments of his country’s present government. But that wasn’t a writer’s persona. That is how Manuel acted in the councils of state, as well.
As a senior official of Mexico’s central bank and finance ministry, Manuel fought without compromise to tear down the maze of bureaucracy and state intrusiveness that fostered cronyism and corruption.
As chief of staff to the Bank of Mexico’s Governor Miguel Mancera Aguayo, he helped craft the cure for the devastating inflation and persistent devaluations that plagued Mexico under left-wing governments. Mancera was once shown a group photograph taken at the central bank twenty years earlier in which he appeared, and Manuel pointed out to him that he was wearing the same suit. “It wasn’t new then,” Mancera told him.
Manuel had contempt for careerists who used government connections to get rich. The son of Spaniards from Asturias who took refuge in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War, he loved his family’s adopted country with a fierce patriotism.
He was brilliant, erudite and capable as an official of the Mexican central bank and finance ministry, as a journalist and as a teacher of economics (he held a long residence at American University in Washington).
As a matter of ability, he should have headed the central bank or finance ministry, but his multifaceted talent did not extend to politics. He spoke too bluntly on behalf of things he believed in to climb the greasy pole of Mexican politics. This worked out to the benefit of the Mexican public who had the benefit of his uncensored comments every week in his Excelsior column.
The year 1988 was a heady year of great hopes. Reagan’s two terms in office had just ended, and America’s return to rapid economic growth with falling inflation stood as an example to the world. The fall of Soviet Communism was a year away.
A new generation of Mexicans hoped to recreate America’s success. Manuel had earned a master’s in economics at the University of Chicago before serving in senior staff positions in Mexico. In 1976 he became a doctoral student of Arnold Harberger, the mentor of Latin America’s “Chicago Boys.”
When I first met him the central bank had seconded him to the Finance Ministry as its man in Washington. Manuel was my guide to Mexico’s labyrinthine political system and the arcana of its Byzantine economic life.
A group of Mexican businesses commissioned a study of Mexico’s economy from the consulting firm Polyconomics, one of the original proponents of supply-side economics, where I was chief economist.
Manuel was our government liaison. Through him I was introduced to the small cadre of reformers who hoped to wrest Mexico away from the “dinosaurs,” the corrupt chieftains of a one-party state. These included the finance minister, Pedro Aspe, and his then-deputy (and later finance minister) Francisco Gil Díaz.
There were grounds then for optimism, and there was room in the councils of state for men like Manuel Suarez Mier. It was a privilege to be there and to have the benefit of Manuel’s insight and guidance.
Tragically, the hopes of Mexico’s reformers were disappointed. Asia Times readers will know how that happened from the twenty substantive essays that Manuel contributed to this publication between November 2018 and July 2021. They are among the best-read articles Asia Times has ever published, often with viewings in six figures.
Mexico was a different country in the time of those reformers. When I first brought Polyconomics’s founder Jude Wanniski to Mexico City, the drug wars that have marred the most recent 20 years were not even a small, dark cloud on the horizon. Mexicans for the most part were hopeful and the country was stable.
Jude and I wore business suits back then as we walked through the low-income neighborhoods adjacent to the Zócalo. More appropriate today would be body armor.
During the past decade, Mexico has become a byword for state failure, with 25 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants (versus 5 for the United States, 1.2 for the United Kingdom and 0.6 for China; some of the Central American statelets on Mexico’s southern border have more murders per capita, but they are a more concentrated version of Mexican conditions).
The Mexicans have been cheated of their hopes (not to mention their savings) too many times for them to resist the rot of despair.
I mourn the Mexico that was, and that should have been. And I mourn Manuel Suarez Mier, a thinker as well as a man of honor, who feared nothing and backed away from no battle, no matter the odds.
He fought against the ruin of the country he loved with a passion and vigor that remained undiminished to the last days of his life. May all of us have the merit to fight to the end.