Simón Iturri Patiño

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Simón Iturri Patiño

Simón Iturri Patiño (1862-1947) was a Bolivian industrialist and entrepreneur. He controlled the richest tin mines in the world.

Simón Iturri Patiño was born in the provincial capital of Cochabamba in June 1862. His background and youth are largely unknown and surrounded by secrecy. He was born into a very humble family of mixed Spanish and Indian blood and in his youth worked in a rural general store and later as a conductor of mule trains in the Bolivian mountains.

About 1900 Patiño received the deed for a small tin mine in return for a modest personal loan he made to a miner. That mine turned out to be fabulously rich, and with profits from it Patiño bought more and more mining property, culminating in his purchase of the giant Catavi mine, largest and richest in the world.

Patiño revealed his true financial genius by his brilliant investments. He used much of his tin profits to buy control of tin smelters in England and new tin mines in Malaya. He also purchased ships and railroads to transport his tin from the mine to the consumer. By 1925 he had significant interests in, if not control of, every stage in the mining, refining, and finishing of tin, which, because of the popularity of the tin can, was constantly increasing in value. It is estimated that by 1925 Patiño owned properties valued at more than $500 million and enjoyed a personal annual income greater than the Bolivian national budget.

After 1920 Patiño traveled widely, rarely returning to his native country. He was diplomatic envoy of Bolivia to Spain (1920-1926) and to France (1926-1941). He received these positons because of his immense wealth, and he used them for their privileges of tax exemption and diplomatic immunity.

From 1920 to his death Patiño exercised a powerful influence on the successive governments of Bolivia. By controlling as much as 60 percent of his country's exports, he helped shape its foreign policy as well. For many years his contributions financed the dominant Liberal party, which had a modern Bolivia as its goal. When that support ended, the party was seriously undermined.

Patiño, though himself a man of very humble origins, had little social conscience and cared little for the welfare of his workers, who suffered from very poor pay and terrible working conditions. In 1943 troops massacred protesting miners at his Catavi mine, a clear sign that the government would protect the Patiño interests at any cost.

Patiño died in Buenos Aires on April 20, 1947. His mines continued in the family until 1952, when President Victor Paz nationalized them.

Further Reading

The only genuine biography of Patiño is in Spanish. Information on the Patiño economic empire can be found in Harold Osborne, Bolivia: A Land Divided (1954; 3d ed. 1964).

Additional Sources

Geddes, Charles F., Patiño, the tin king, London, R. Hale 1972. □