Analysis: Colombia's small giant

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large  |  July 5, 2005 at 10:35 AM
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WASHINGTON, July 5 (UPI) -- The race to succeed Enrique Iglesias as head of the Inter-American Development Bank will be a new test of the Bush administration's influence in Latin America.

Iglesias, a former Uruguayan foreign minister, 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 newly created organization of Ibero-American nations that promotes cooperation between Spain and Portugal and their former Latin American colonies. 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 people and has approved almost $140 billion in loans to back investment projects of more than $300 billion. The United States controls 30 percent of IDB's voting shares. Brazil and Argentina are co-equals second largest, each with 11 percent.

Brazil, not in good order on the international stage these days, is backing Joao Sayad, vice president of IDB, a Sao Paulo banker and economist who is little known internationally.

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

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

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

A former Harvard Nieman Fellow for distinguished work in journalism, 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 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The 45-year-old guerrilla movement has now morphed into a quasi-drug cartel that combats 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 Iglesias. 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 of the IDB.

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.

Should neither Moreno nor Brazil's Sayad get the 50 percent required and the backing of at least 15 Latin American nations, a possible compromise candidate is Bolivia's Enrique Garcia, who heads the Andean Development Corporation, or former Peruvian Prime Minister Roberto Danino, now the World Bank's General Counsel.

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

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