On June 16, the Trump administration announced that it would be throwing its own hat into the ring for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the largest and most important development institution in the hemisphere. There is an unspoken rule that the presidency should go to a Latin American national while the United States may nominate the bank’s second-in-command.
Traditionally, this acts as a method of maintaining the balance of powers within the region and serves to show respect to Latin American nations on the U.S.’s part. It is thought of as only fair, seeing as the United States already nominates the president of the World Bank Group, the largest development organization in the world, and maintains the headquarters of the Organization of American States, the Western Hemisphere’s equivalent to the United Nations (in addition to the headquarters of the actual United Nations). With this nomination, the Trump administration has demonstrated that it cares little for regional tradition, balance of power, or even respect for nations it so clearly considers lesser than itself.
The American nominee, Mauricio Claver-Carone, currently acts as President Trump’s Latin America advisor, a job he is not only grossly under-qualified for, but also which provides little evidence to suggest he possesses any sort of qualification to lead the region’s premier development institution. In a scathing opinion piece published in the Washington Post, Christopher Sabatini, the Senior Research Fellow for Latin America at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, points out that Claver-Carone only briefly served as the U.S. Executive Director to the International Monetary Fund and did so without Senate confirmation. As Trump’s Senior Director of Western Hemisphere Affairs, he has pushed for hardline policy against the supposed “troika of tyranny” of Latin America: Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua (coincidentally three of the countries most in need). Neither convincingly place him as a professional with the cultural knowledge, experience, or care necessary to head the IDB.
Despite at least 15 of the IDB’s 48 members coming out in support of the American nominee, with Brazil even abandoning its own in favour of Claver-Carone, some of the region’s most important individuals have come out against him. Argentina has refused to abandon its own candidate, Gustavo Béliz, and the Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Solá has pointed to the need for a “Latin American perspective” at the head of the IDB if the region is ever to recover from its devastating coronavirus outbreak. Mexico, an American frenemy if ever was one, has staunchly supported the Argentines. They, along with Uruguay, Costa Rica, and the European Union, have publicly urged a delay of the elections from later this month to sometime in 2021. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, a powerful and unique conservative billionaire-turned-politician, came out in favour of the delay. Even former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who both helped forge and maintain strong relationships with the U.S. during their respective tenures, have both signed a letter opposing Claver-Carone’s nomination.
Brazil and Colombia, perhaps the only strong American allies left in the region, have justified their show of support by claiming that a Trump nomination demonstrates interest from the North that could revitalize what many see as another outdated institution. Many within the U.S. government have denounced the nomination, including the campaign of presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has allegedly characterized Claver-Carone as “overly ideological” and under-qualified. Mark Feierstein, a former Obama-era official on Latin America, has pointed to Senator Patrick Leahy’s suggestion that it would be difficult for the IDB to compete for resources within the already-overburdened Senate and House Appropriations Committees, especially considering the American presidential and congressional elections. Amanda Glassman, an executive of the Center for Global Development and former IDB employee, has pointed to the mounting health, humanitarian, and economic crises of the region, telling Foreign Policy that, with the World Bank pulled in so many directions, the IDB is the lifeline for the vulnerable governments of the Western Hemisphere.
The United States has framed this nomination as a necessary break in form as the region tackles mounting financial and humanitarian crises, as well as the strongest coronavirus outbreaks in the world. In a statement to Reuters, Scott Morris, a fellow at the Center for Global Development, challenged this, saying, “You can’t argue in favour of scrapping the old system with a meritocracy if you have a foot in both [the IDB and the World Bank],” and pointed to the fact that this move could significantly harm the U.S.’s already-rocky relationship with its regional neighbours. Mauricio Cárdenas Santamaría, once the Colombian Minister of Finance and Public Credit, called the move only a “small victory for the USA” and a “great defeat for Latin America,” attesting that the IDB presidency “has always been the position for a Latin American to have a seat on the global stage.”
After all, the U.S. already dominates the Western Hemisphere in all aspects. It is not only the wealthiest country in the hemisphere, but is also, by most estimates, among the wealthiest in the world. It proudly touts its military, by far the world’s most bloated and expensive – the same military that it has used time and time again to unlawfully interfere in countries across the region. In contrast, Latin America and the Caribbean is a region of unequal economic development, plagued by drastic wealth inequality and moderate-to-unsustainable poverty rates (U.S.A. Today, for example, named Haiti one of the 25 poorest countries in the world). Traditionally, military affairs are an internal matter, and no country except for Brazil under Bolsonaro has aspired to emulate American military-style foreign policy. With the exception of Cuba, no Latin American nation has defeated the United States in an armed conflict. Yet, none of these points, nor do any others, deputize America as the ruler, protector, or “leader” of the Americas, a point suggested by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Likewise, the fact that the United States monetarily contributes the most of any nation toward the bank does not entitle it to domination. It does not get use an institution so vital to buy influence over a region it already routinely exploits. It does not get to turn the entity in charge of lifting 180 million people out of poverty into another prize for its partisan trophy case. For decades, the United States has held its foot on the neck of the world. This nomination spits in the face of Latin American autonomy and demonstrates the Trump administration’s total failure to engage with the region. Despite more than a century of conflicts with the U.S., Donald Trump has almost singlehandedly managed to destroy any sort of regional camaraderie left. Even at the expense of the rest of the world’s trust and respect, it is clear Trump’s government is truly dedicated to his backwards “America first” ideology.
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