An advisor to US President Donald Trump was elected president of the Inter-American Development Bank, ending decades of Latin American leadership, the institution announced Saturday.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, who is a US citizen of Cuban descent, was the only candidate for the position and will assume office on October 1 for a five-year term. The victory came after Argentina abstained in protest and urged other nations to join it.
He won the vote of 30 IDB governors, 23 of them from South American countries and, according to a Washington-based source, a total of 66.8 percent of the votes. The decision was made during an online videoconference meeting by the institution's Board of Governors, its highest authority.
According to analysts, Trump's decision to put forward a candidate is a move to counter Chinese influence in the hemisphere.
In a statement, Claver-Carone thanked regional partners for "maintaining the integrity of this electoral process and sharing in our common vision of a stronger and more responsive IDB."
The bank is the main source of financing for development in Latin America and the Caribbean. It comprises 48 countries: nations in the region and Europe, plus the United States, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea and China. In total, it lends more than US$10 billion per year to fund social and infrastructure programmes. The IDB is seen as key to finance Latin America’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Claver-Carone, 45, is the first non-Latin American citizen in 60 years to lead the IDB, and this had caused friction among its member states, including Argentina and Chile.
The two nations expressed concerns that Claver-Carone would undermine one of the institutions capable of offsetting the cost of the coronavirus pandemic. Buenos Aires had proposed Strategic Affairs Secretary Gustavo Beliz as its candidate, but dramatically withdrew the official from the race on Thursday.
While Mexico, Chile and the European Union also previously urged a delay, saying that countries lacked appropriate time to debate the bank’s future due to the pandemic, the subtext was the uproar over Trump nominating an adviser known as a Cuba and Venezuela hard-liner and breaking the tradition of the bank’s head coming from Latin America established over the course of its six-decade history.
The vote, initially scheduled for March, was delayed due to Covid-19.
Former presidents and finance ministers from nations including Mexico, Brazil and Colombia argued that having a head from the United States, which has triple the voting power of any other nation, would strip the region of its influence in the bank’s decisions. To ease that concern, Claver-Carone said last month that he’s held talks with the Brazilians about the IDB’s number two position and pledged to appoint leaders from the Caribbean and Central America.
On Thursday, Argentina formally called on others to abstain, and Chile raised the possibility of cancelling the election altogether.
Claver-Carone's victory had the backing of many Trump allies, including Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo both congratulated Claver-Carone in statements.
Luis Alberto Moreno, the outgoing president and a former Colombian ambassador to the United States., is set to step down at the end of this month after 15 years at the helm.
Known for his long-standing activism against Cuba's communist regime and firm opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Claver-Carone has helped shape the US administration's tough policies towards the two countries. His election comes less than two months before the US presidential election in November, where Trump is seeking a second term.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee that would need to approve a US capital increase for the bank, criticised the nomination of Claver-Carone, a former Sirius XM radio host of the show From Washington al Mundo. Leahy said in June that his presidency could jeopardise US support for the bank and warned that Claver-Carone’s adversarial relationship with the governments of Venezuela and Cuba could polarise the IDB.
The US is the IDB's main shareholder, with a 30 percent stake.