A scene from an Inter-American Development Bank meeting in Panama City. Photo by: Carlos Jasso / Reuters

WASHINGTON — A growing number of current and former officials from Latin America are calling on the Inter-American Development Bank to postpone its presidential election scheduled for next month.

In a letter obtained by Devex, a group of former Central American officials — including former presidents, vice presidents, foreign ministers, and IDB governors — argued that IDB should wait until the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic passes before it selects a new leader for the regional development bank.

“This process has generated important and justifiable concerns in a moment in which Latin America is facing unprecedented challenges,” the officials wrote of the election in the letter, drafted this week.

“Postponing the IDB presidential election offers a viable and constructive alternative to the legitimate worries about an institution that is key to our development. Facing the recent and profound health and economic crisis in our region, it is necessary to have an IDB agenda based on the needs of Latin America,” the officials continued.

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Some countries in Latin America must consider the politics at play and how leadership could impact future financing from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Latin America has seen the most COVID-19 deaths of any region in the world and is expected to lose more than a decade of progress in reducing poverty because of the pandemic. According to an analysis by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the Pan American Health Organization, the region’s gross domestic product is projected to drop 9.1% in 2020, while unemployment could rise by 5.4 percentage points.

The election to replace current IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno is scheduled to take place from Sept. 12-13. For the first time, the U.S. has named a candidate to head the bank, which has always been led by someone from the region. The U.S. holds a 30% stake in the bank and has traditionally nominated a vice president.

The U.S. administration’s nomination of Mauricio Claver-Carone, senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs in the White House National Security Council, has faced pushback by critics in both the U.S. and Latin America who say the bank is better off being led by a president from the region.

Claver-Carone, who is Cuban American, is known for having hard-line policies on Cuba and Venezuela. He has pledged to serve only one five-year term and to secure a capital increase, which the bank has not had since 2010.

“This [election] process has generated important and justifiable concerns in a moment in which Latin America is facing unprecedented challenges.”

— A letter from a group of former Central American officials

Some countries, including Colombia and Brazil, have expressed support for the American candidate, likely giving Claver-Carone the more than 50% of votes he needs to be elected.

The letter from the Central American officials does not directly reference Claver-Carone’s candidacy, but Mexico, Argentina, and Chile have publicly called for the election to be postponed. The latter two countries have candidates of their own to run in the election.

While the countries that support postponing the race do not have enough votes to elect one of their alternatives to Claver-Carone, they could prevent an election from taking place by denying the board of governors the quorum needed.

IDB rules require an absolute majority of the total number of governors with 75% of the voting power to participate. Mexico, Argentina, and Chile together have about 22% of the bank’s shares and so, with support from additional shareholders, could pass the 25% threshold to stop the election from happening as scheduled.

Americans and Europeans have also publicly weighed in.

A group of former U.S. officials from both of the country’s political parties, including former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, wrote a letter calling for the IDB election to be postponed. They said naming an American risks alienating Latin America and politicizing the bank.

Meanwhile, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said the vote should be rescheduled because of the U.S. administration candidate.

IDB did not respond to a request to comment.

About the author

  • Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.