BOLIVIA: Don Mauricio

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In the high-walled adobe jail of La Paz last week languished Mauricio Hochschild, probably the biggest mining mag nate in South America. Arrested as instigator of a plot against Provisional President Gualberto Villarroel (TIME, May 8), he was lucky to be alive. The Villarroel Government had thought of shooting him, then thought again when it pondered his connections, his influence, his hold on Bolivia. Instead of killing him, his captors handled him with the special care due such a special person.

The Magnate. The Government had jailed the most active member of Bolivia's trinity of tin barons. The others: elderly Indian Simón Patiño (called one of the richest men in the world), who has not visited Bolivia since 1923; and elegant, Oxford-bred Carlos Victor Aramayo, who looks in remote La Paz like Anthony Eden in exile.

Hochschild was born in Biberach, Germany, son of a middle-class Jewish merchant. Trained as a mining engineer in Freiberg, he traveled all over the world. He worked in Spain, Australia, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina. Sometimes he hoboed.

In 1927 he turned to Bolivia, began to apply modern techniques to abandoned, worked-over tin mines. Since then he has branched into copper, zinc, silver, tungsten—a variety of mine holdings which eventually exceeded those of Simón Patiño. A few Bolivians welcomed Hochschild and his up-&-coming ways; others cursed him for stimulating the specialized mining economy which caused Bolivia's underpaid, tuberculous, ill-fed masses untold misery, and prevented diversification which might have made a healthier economy.

Hochschild, called "Don Mauricio" by his well-wishers, is a big, bland man of 62 with a big, bald head, heavy brown eyebrows. He eats hugely, spills cigar ashes on his stomach, claims a stock of 2,000 jokes in various languages. He is charitable to nuns, priests, refugee Jews, and likes to hand out expensive Havana cigars as if they were calling cards.

Political Magnate. Soon after he started his Bolivian career, Don Mauricio began to dabble in politics. His object, shared with the rest of the tin trinity: to keep a "sympathetic" government, which would hold miners' wages and standards of living to the lowest possible level. German Busch, the last President who tried to buck Hochschild & friends, slapped him in jail, would have shot him except for powerful intervention reportedly by the U.S. and Argentina. (Hochschild has a convenient Argentine citizenship.) Soon afterward, Busch died (official explanation: suicide).

Scanty reports from Bolivia last week indicated that President Villarroel and his Government of young Army officers and intellectuals were again at war with the tin companies. Hochschild again was the chief antagonist. Patiño was in Montreal. Dapper Aramayo had ducked into sanctuary in the Spanish Embassy.

Don Mauricio, in jail, had every chance of getting out, or at worst of being exiled. He had many potent Argentine and U.S. friends. His foresighted charities had won him the support of many groups, including Jewish refugees. Benjamin Cohen, Chilean Ambassador to Bolivia, interceded for him. Even behind bars, Don Mauricio was still a power-center of Bolivian politics.