MEXICO: Pieces of Silver

Catching a mountain lion in a coyote trap is quite a surprise. Finance Minister Ramon Beteta last week found how it feels. He had set out to run down the silver smugglers who had been cheating the government of export taxes and dollar earnings. He ended up with the ultra-conservative Banco de Comercio, S.A., the country's biggest private banking house, on his hands.

Mexican silver production is strictly regulated by the government, which imposes a 15% tax on exports to support the value of silver in the Manhattan free market.* For more than a year Mexican treasury officials had suspected...

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