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Latin American governments move to scuttle Trump’s pick for international development bank

Caracol TV journalist Ricardo Ospina​, left, and Mauricio Claver-Carone​,​ senior director at the National Security Council.
Caracol TV journalist Ricardo Ospina, left, and Mauricio Claver-Carone, senior director of Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, at a summit in Bogota, Colombia, in 2019.
(Gabriel Aponte / Getty Images)

Diplomats from several Latin American and European countries are trying to delay next month’s vote on President Trump’s nominee to lead a key international development bank, hoping to push the decision into next year, when a new U.S. president could be in office.

Trump broke norms by nominating a U.S. citizen from his National Security Council staff to head the Inter-American Development Bank, a lending agency that finances roughly $12 billion a year in a wide range of projects for Latin America and the Caribbean. For its six decades, the bank’s presidency was held by a Latin American national. The head of its counterpart organization, the World Bank, is traditionally a U.S. citizen, while the International Monetary Fund is run by a European.

Trump’s pick is Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Floridian son of Cuban immigrants who advocates an aggressive U.S. policy toward leftist governments in Venezuela and Cuba.

A lawyer, Claver-Carone has little banking experience, and his appointment is being seen as part of Trump’s effort to put Americans in charge of key international organizations. He is also very close to Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

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In a rare move to confront the Trump administration, diplomats from several Latin American and European countries have come out in opposition to Claver-Carone and called for the September annual assembly to be postponed indefinitely. If that fails, some have speculated that opposing countries may skip the meeting, depriving it of the quorum needed for the vote.

Costa Rica, a traditional U.S. ally reluctant to rock the boat with Washington, over the weekend joined Chile, Mexico, Argentina and the European Union, which have either opposed Claver-Carone’s nomination or urged a delay in the election.

Citing the coronavirus as a reason to postpone, the Finance and Foreign ministries added that they would continue to promote the nation’s own candidate, former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla.

Canada has joined the opposition, diplomatic sources said, but has not done so publicly.

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The European Union, which holds an advisory role with the IDB, also declared its opposition to Claver-Carone, saying the position should be held by a Latin American national and urging the election be put off.

Chile’s opposition is significant because President Sebastián Piñera, a conservative businessman, has been relatively friendly with Trump. “Under no circumstance is it reasonable” to change the bank leadership at this moment, Piñera’s foreign minister, Andrés Allamand, said last week.

Opponents probably lack the votes needed to defeat Claver-Carone or rally behind one of the rival candidates. Under voting rules, the U.S. controls about 30% of the final determination. Brazil, under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who styles himself as the Trump of the Tropics, has 11%, and Colombia, also a strong ally of Washington, slightly more than 3% — giving the bloc nearly 45%.

NSC officials presented a list of an additional dozen, mostly small Latin American and Caribbean countries that support Claver-Carone.

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“Arranging a boycott is the way to prevent the election” of Claver-Carone, said Mauricio Silva, who retired last year as the bank’s executive director for Central America.

Claver-Carone was a chief architect of Trump’s policies to crack down on leftist governments in the region and pressure Central American countries to cooperate with the Trump administration’s efforts to block migrants and asylum seekers from crossing into the U.S. from its southern border with Mexico.

Silva and others expressed doubt that Claver-Carone would be willing to address topics critical in Latin America but largely ignored by Trump, such as climate change and the promotion of human rights.

“There has to be independence, especially from an American administration that has been very polarizing toward Latin America,” Silva said.

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Claver-Carone, who heads the NSC’s Western Hemisphere section, declined to comment.

In an op-ed essay published in several U.S. and Latin American newspapers, Claver-Carone said he could strengthen U.S. commitment to the region and would promote a State Department program called America Crece (America Grows) that advocates infrastructure projects and other private investment to improve conditions in Latin America.

“My candidacy for the IDB presidency breaks with history, presents a commitment from the United States to the region, and offers a new approach that seeks to strengthen the bank’s role,” he wrote. “As president, my tenure would represent a strategic realignment towards the Americas, improved governance, and a focus on our shared values of inclusion, prosperity, and security.”

His confrontational style, however, has frequently been on display. He walked out of the inaugural ceremony of newly elected Argentine President Alberto Fernández last year because a minister from Venezuela’s government was present.

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Claver-Carone late last month received a key endorsement from Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez, also a hawk on Cuba, acknowledged he did not always agree with Claver-Carone’s policy decisions, but he believed Trump’s nominee would be able to work across ideological lines in the Western Hemisphere and achieve consensus.

It will also be an “essential task,” Menendez added, for the next IDB president to commit “to working in a bipartisan manner with the next U.S. president and their administration, regardless of party.”

But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate’s powerful Appropriations Committee, said a Claver-Carone selection was a mistake. If Joe Biden is elected president in November, his administration would run into conflict with the Trump holdover, potentially jeopardizing future U.S. money for the bank, Leahy said.

“Claver-Carone’s idea of diplomacy is often to admonish and impose sanctions, which in Latin America more often than not means unilateral sanctions, which have isolated the United States, emboldened those who the sanctions are intended to punish, and harmed people in those countries who we want to help,” Leahy said.

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The vote to replace the current bank president, Luis Alberto Moreno, a Colombian diplomat who has been in the office since 2005, is scheduled for Sept. 12-13. The term is for five years, but a president can be reelected.


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