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09/07/2005 | Colombia's small giant

Arnaud de Borchgrave

The race to succeed Enrique Iglesias as head of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will be a new test of the Bush administration's influence in Latin America.


Former Uruguayan Foreign Minister Iglesias has reigned over IDB from its Washington headquarters for 17 years. At 75, he felt it was time, not to retire, but to move on to his next job. He will now head the new organization of "Ibero-American" nations that promotes cooperation between Spain and Portugal and their former Latin American colonies. Mr. Iglesias also holds Spanish citizenship.

In business almost 46 years, IDB, with 46 member countries (including 26 borrower nations in the Americas) employs some 2,000 and has approved almost $140 billion in loans to back investment projects of well more than $300 billion.
The U.S. controls 30 percent of IDB's voting shares. Brazil and Argentina are co-equal second largest, each with 11 percent.

Brazil, not in good odor on the international stage these days, is backing Joao Sayad, IDB vice president and an internationally little-known Sao Paulo banker and economist.

Washington's candidate to take over the IDB Board of Governors is one of Washington's most popular and effective ambassadors currently on Embassy Row. At 52, Colombia's Luis Alberto Moreno still has the looks of a handsome postgraduate student half his age. After a string of executive jobs in television news, banking and government, President Andres Pastrana, a former employee of Mr. Moreno's in TV news, appointed him ambassador to the United States. Mr. Pastrana gave him an urgent mission: Lobby for Plan Colombia to reverse the country's slide into the ranks of failing or failed states.

Mr. Moreno's ready wit, charm, media savvy and keen intellect rapidly elevated him and his Venezuelan-born wife Gabriella, to the senior league club (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy) on Washington's social and diplomatic circuits.

Mr. Moreno got to know almost every member of Congress as well as ranking members of the Clinton and Bush administrations. He was hard to avoid -- from policy institute brainstorming sessions to small dinners where administration luminaries talk confidentially outside media earshot. His op-eds appeared in leading publications in the U.S. and Colombia.

A former Harvard Nieman Fellow for distinguished work in journalism, Mr. Moreno lobbied hard for Plan Colombia. With strong bipartisan support, some $4 billion in U.S. assistance was voted to fight the world's oldest insurgency, the Marxist FARC. The 45-year-old guerrilla movement has now morphed into a quasi-drug cartel that runs interference with the government's campaign to eradicate the source of most of the world's cocaine.

After seven years on Washington's diplomatic stage, Colombia's little (5' 5') diplomatic giant now faces what could be a bruising battle to succeed Mr. Inglesias. U.S. support, which he has, is imperative and counts for 30.01 percent. He also needs the support of at least 15 of the 28 nations in the Americas that are members.

But the 26 borrowing members from Latin America and the Caribbean hold 50.02 percent. Europe's 16 member countries muster 10.81 percent; Japan 5 percent; and Canada 4 percent.

If neither Mr. Moreno nor Brazil's Joao Sayad gets the 50 percent required and the backing of at least 15 Latin American nations, a possible compromise is Bolivia's Enrique Garcia, head of Andean Development Corp., or former Peruvian Prime Minister Roberto Danino, now World Bank general counsel.

Mr. Sayad, generally seen as the candidate of Latin America's left wing, and Mr. Moreno, the Bush administration candidate, will be the latest test of U.S. influence in Latin America.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

Washington Times (Estados Unidos)


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