Rising to the Occasion: Does Moreno Have What it Takes to be the Next President of the IDB?

On July 27th, the governors of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will choose their new president. Currently, the position is held by Enrique Iglesias of Uruguay, who revitalized the IDB and infused it with ethics and a sense of professionalism that had eluded the organization throughout its long history. His 17 year tenure at the IDB has set a high bar for his successor, who will need a very strong background in international finance as well as a keen sense of diplomacy and vision in order to competently execute his responsibilities. While Iglesias was one in a million, in reference to his unique capabilities, his ethical tone and his professional capacity, his would-be replacements do not project a similar mix of abilities that would make them equally compelling prospects.

Among the presidential contenders is Brazilian Joao Sayad, the current Vice President of Finance and Management at the IDB and perhaps the best prepared of the candidates aspiring for the position. He is joined by Mario Alonso, the head of the Central Bank of Nicaragua, Peruvian Finance Minister Pedro-Pablo Kuczynski, former finance minister of Venezuela Jose Rojas and Luis Alberto Moreno, the Colombian Ambassador to the United States. Moreno appears to be the favorite, thanks to his support from the U.S., which controls 30 percent of the vote on the IDB’s board.

While Moreno’s finance background does provide him with a modicum of relevant experience, it is hardly enough to establish his credentials as making him the ineluctable candidate for the position. Additionally, one cannot help thinking that it is not his banking abilities that have brought him to Washington’s attention as much as it is the fact that on a day-to-day basis, he worked with the DEA, the Pentagon and the State Department in helping to militarize Plan Columbia and convert the strategy from a development-oriented format which would seriously address issues of social and economic justice, into one which functions to guard the pipeline of the U.S.-owned Occidental Petroleum and to track down leftist guerillas.

Ambassador Moreno has been a loyal servitor of Washington’s cause in Colombia, and he certainly possesses the best of survivor skills – qualities that have allowed him to be one of his country’s best representatives in Washington. However, he patently lacks the vision and depth of character to succeed a man of Iglesias’ stature. Under Moreno, the bank could very well slide back to the bad old days when nepotism, corruption and sexism thrived in the IDB’s corridors of power. Furthermore, Moreno’s political ideology is in line with the Bush administration’s, a factor that could threaten to politicize the IDB and further polarize the relationship between North and South America. Additionally, if Moreno were to assume the IDB’s top post, with Paul Wolfowitz as the president of the World Bank, it would mean that two of the most relevant lending agencies would be controlled by individuals with a military rather than development vision.

Undoubtedly, Moreno’s main accomplishment in Washington was his success at lobbying Congress to support Plan Colombia, America’s five year old, multi-billion dollar attempt to fight drug production and guerilla activity in the country he represents. Heavily outsourced to private military firms (PMFs), Washington’s war on drugs has been dismally ineffective; 90 percent of the cocaine and 50 percent of the heroin on the streets of the U.S. still comes from Colombia. With the prices of these drugs remaining stable, and their purity rising, the value of continuing to pour resources into Colombia seems dubious at best. Yet Moreno relentlessly lobbies for Plan Colombia funding, and President Bush is requesting $734 million for next year’s pointless infusion. In the past five years, Moreno has helped to extract $3 billion from the U.S. Treasury, making Colombia the third largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world. Given Plan Colombia’s disappointing track record, and Moreno’s support for it, it would appear that while he is a shrewd politician and diplomat, the ambassador does not project the kind of fiscal judgment and seriousness of purpose that the IDB would require of him if he were to be worthy of filling Iglesias’ shoes.