Mauricio Claver-Carone says he is backed publicly by 18 of the IDB shareholder countries and privately by five more © Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Shutterstock

Former presidents have lined up to attack him and critics call him a single-issue ideologue, but Donald Trump’s candidate to head the most important development bank in the Americas believes he has won a majority for his programme to revamp the lender.

“It’s been going very positively,” Mauricio Claver-Carone told the Financial Times ahead of a board vote on Saturday to pick the bank’s next leader. “We’ve presented a very forward-looking vision founded on economic recovery from the [coronavirus] crisis.”

At stake is the future direction of the Inter-American Development Bank. Based in Washington, it normally lends around $12bn-$13bn a year to Latin America and the Caribbean — although the bank expects this to rise to more than $20bn this year — to fund infrastructure and improve health and education.

The bank’s board is made up of 43 shareholder countries and will meet virtually on Saturday to elect a new president. For its 60-year history, the IDB has been headed by a Latin American. The Trump administration’s nomination in June of Mr Claver-Carone, a Cuban-American who has campaigned for tougher sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela from his post as senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the US National Security Council, therefore came as a shock.

The idea won early support from close US allies such as Colombia, El Salvador and Brazil but aroused indignation among some other Latin American nations, who feel steamrollered by Washington. Five ex-presidents from the region and a former Spanish leader even published a joint statement calling his candidacy a “serious aggression to Latin American dignity”.

Argentina’s leftwing government has suggested Gustavo Béliz, a senior aide to President Alberto Fernández, as an alternative, but the idea has not gained traction. Brazil, whose president Jair Bolsonaro is a close Trump ally, was persuaded not to enter the race and the leading Latin American candidate, former Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla, pulled out last week.

There are no other candidates. But Buenos Aires is trying a last-ditch manoeuvre: denying Saturday’s board meeting a quorum by persuading countries representing at least a quarter of the votes not to show up. This would force the decision about a new president to be postponed.

“There are only really two countries which have been vehemently opposed and tried to subvert our candidacy, but they are doing so with tactics and not with ideas, so we are confident that our positive vision will prevail,” said Mr Claver-Carone, referring to Argentina and Chile. In earlier remarks he compared their tactic to “trying to steal the ball and run off the pitch” when losing a football match.

Several Washington observers believe Mr Claver-Carone is likely to emerge victorious on Saturday. The US candidate said he had the public support of 18 of the IDB shareholder countries and the private backing of five more — a comfortable margin, given that his camp includes some countries with the biggest voting weights, such as the US and Brazil.

“I’m humbled by the support,” he told the FT, adding that he had been co-nominated by Guyana, Haiti, El Salvador, Paraguay and Israel, as well as the US.

Mexico, another leading shareholder, had backed Argentina’s Mr Béliz but appears unwilling to deny the meeting a quorum, meaning Buenos Aires’ gambit is likely to fail, according to one official close to the process.

Born in Miami to a Cuban mother and a Spanish father, Mr Claver-Carone gives short shrift to the argument that he should not lead the bank because he is a US citizen. He pointed out that the current IDB president, Colombian diplomat Luis Alberto Moreno — who is at the end of his third five-year term — was born in Philadelphia and that a previous chief, Enrique Iglesias, began life in Spain before emigrating to Uruguay.

Mr Claver-Carone’s election pitch is based on his record. He leads América Crece (America Is Growing), an initiative to co-ordinate US government agencies investing in Latin American infrastructure. Though he trained as a lawyer, he has worked on financial issues at the US Treasury and as the US representative to the IMF, where, he said, he enjoyed a strong working relationship with the then managing director. “Call Christine Lagarde and ask her what she thinks,” he urged.

“Despite the stereotypes from the people who don’t know me, those who have talked to me and worked with me would tell you that I am a very reasonable person who’s very good at building coalitions and finding points of common interest,” he said.

His agenda for the IDB revolves around securing more capital from shareholders to allow a big expansion of lending to a new annual average of $17bn-$20bn, something the US has blocked in the past.

“The region has been rightfully complaining for 60 years that the US is not caring enough and has not stepped up to the plate,” he said, referring to unsuccessful past requests for more US capital. “China has filled a gap that the IDB should have filled.”

Mr Claver-Carone said that, if elected, he would empower the smaller nations of the region and the IDB’s board and limit himself to a single five-year term. As the first American IDB chief, he wants to blaze a trail for other firsts in future, such as a first female leader, a first Afro-Caribbean or a first person of indigenous descent.

If he wins on Saturday, Mr Claver-Carone could face a fresh hurdle; a Biden presidency might look askance at a Trump nominee running the IDB. Mr Claver-Carone said he had promised the Democrats he would not get involved in partisan politics.

“But the best part of this,” he added, “is that in the last six months, people have talked more about the IDB than in the last six years. That’s a good thing.”


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