Bretton Woods: Who Was Eduardo Suárez?

The Bretton Woods conference was divided into three working groups called commissions. Commission I, on the International Monetary Fund, was chaired by Harry Dexter White of the United States Treasury. Commission II, on the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), was chaired by John Maynard Keynes of the United Kingdom. Commission III, on other means of international financial cooperation, was chaired by Eduardo Suárez of Mexico. Keynes is known to everyone; White is known to everyone interested in Bretton Woods; but Suárez is not well known outside of his native country. Who was he?

Eduardo Suárez Aranzolo was born on January 3, 1895 in Texcoco, in the State of Mexico (which adjoins the federal district of Mexico City). As a youth he studied law, with the aid of a scholarship granted by the government of the state of Hidalgo. At age 22 he became an official in that government. After unsuccessfully running for a seat in the state legislature, he taught international law, eventually becoming a chaired professor at Mexico’s leading university. He also frequently acted as a consultant to the national government, including on a U.S.-Mexican commission and representing Mexico at the League of Nations. He participated in drafting important Mexican laws relating to the central bank, credit, and labor in the early 1930s.

Suárez was Secretary of Public Finance and Credit under two Mexican presidents from 1935 to 1946. His tenure in the office remains the second longest on record (after Antonio Ortiz Mena, who served from 1958 to 1970). He can be considered the founder of what has been termed the “developmentalist” school of thought in Mexican economic policy making. Two important events during his tenure were a rise in the world price of silver in 1935 that made Mexican silver pesos worth more as metal than as money, and the nationalization of foreign oil companies by president Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938.

After his time as a top official, Suárez resumed his career as a lawyer and also became an adviser to a number of businesses. He served as Mexico’s ambassador to Britain from 1965 to 1970. He died on September 19, 1976.

According to Luis Machado, a Cuban delegate to the Bretton Woods conference  who later became an executive director of the World Bank, Suárez was considered as a prospect to be the second president of the bank after its first president, the American Eugene Meyer, resigned. Ultimately the post went to another American, John J. McCloy.

Suárez’s son helped gather material for a posthumous collection of writings entitled Commentarios y recuerdos (1926-1946) (Comments and Memories, 1926-1946), published in Mexico City in 1977. Readers who know Spanish may also be interested in this reminiscence of Bretton Woods 50 years later by the technical secretary of the Mexican delegation, Victor L. Urquidi.

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About Kurt Schuler

Kurt Schuler, co-editor of The Bretton Woods Transcripts, is Senior Fellow of Financial History at the Center for Financial Stability and an economist in the Office of International Affairs at the United States Department of the Treasury.