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A Troubling First: An American Takes the Helm of Inter-American Development Bank

Mauricio Silva

 
 

This past Saturday, Mauricio Claver-Carone was elected the new president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Elected through a virtual process, Claver-Carone is the IDB’s first president who is not from Latin America. 

Claver-Carone’s candidacy divided the region as soon as it was announced; his term may divide even further. The IDB is the leading source of multilateral funding for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and serves as an essential public policy advisor. Claver-Carone’s election has great significance for the region’s geopolitics and diplomacy and will likely impact the institution and its future role.

A key factor in Claver-Carone’s election was the use of power by the United States and its diplomatic corps. Among the early endorsers of his candidacy were unconditional U.S. allies, led by Colombia and several small countries in the region, including Central American countries, with the exception of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. That support came after trips throughout the region by Claver-Carone in his capacity as a U.S. government official, calls from the highest level of U.S. diplomats to their counterparts, promises of future assignments in the IDB, and loans to some countries. The United States and Claver-Carone’s strategy was to further divide the LAC countries. The Empire struck using all of its force.

The virtual election made it difficult for regional countries to know and evaluate the candidates. Shareholder countries that were not U.S. allies could not reach a consensus. Ultimately, Claver-Carone was the only candidate left. Building consensus virtually is far more difficult than in person, especially for the less powerful. For these reasons, many countries in the region question the election’s fairness. The example and precedent set by the process are not good for democracy in the LAC region. 

Claver-Carone’s candidacy and election broke a diplomatic agreement that had existed for the IDB and other multilateral organizations. The precedent set by this election opens the door for those agreements not to hold future elections in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other regional banks.

In the middle of the pandemic, the IDB’s future role was not discussed. Given the health crisis and much needed regional economic recovery, the IDB’s role needs to change. Claver-Carone presented an agenda that implies politicizing the IDB. He took a very conservative position on issues highly relevant to the region, such as the environment. No mention was made about other key regional issues, such as social inclusion and sustainable human development. The U.S. political parties took very different positions concerning the IDB. Tensions will only worsen if the Democrats win the upcoming US elections—bringing uncertainty and instability to the IDB at a time when its presence will be needed most.

The role many countries played in the IDB election was deplorable. The United States broke an agreement that has been in place since the IDB’s founding. It reverted to the open use of imperial powers and the Monroe Doctrine, showing little respect for democratic practices. The LAC countries played a submissive role. They were unable to present a united front and put forward a futurist and regional view. The Latin American and Caribbean region will get what it deserves. 

The coup de grâce in the election process came when Mexico and the López Obrador government broke an agreement to block the assembly needed to elect the president and postpone the vote until a more appropriate time after the U.S. election. Bolívar would be so frustrated!

The IDB election of Claver-Carone does not set a good precedent for relations between a new U.S. government and the LAC countries. It does not advance the IDB and the role it should play as the LAC region’s most important bank. It sets negative precedents for the multilateral financial institutions. It does not benefit inter-American relations. Given Claver-Carone’s curriculum vitae and the circumstances leading to his election, could he serve as an able consensus-building politician who, as president of an international institution, will put the region’s interest above all others?

*Mauricio Silva worked at IDB for 20 years, 10 on the Board as Director for El Salvador and Central America


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