Usually a rather obscure diplomatic process, the upcoming election of the new president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is becoming anything but. In recent days, several Latin American countries have come out in favor of postponing the vote, now scheduled for Sept. 12-13, until March 2021. The move represents a direct rebuke of the US President Donald Trump’s administration, which in June nominated Mauricio Claver-Carone, a hard-line advisor to the president on Latin American affairs, to lead the bank for the next five years.
Like much of Trump’s Latin America policy, the nomination was perceived as an affront in the region. And it became clear over the summer that it would not go unchallenged. The first sign of trouble came when five former Latin American presidents (all of whom had friendly relations with the United States while in office) openly opposed Claver-Carone’s nomination, arguing that the IDB presidency should remain in Latin American hands, as it had since the bank’s founding in 1959. That message was reinforced by letters from a slew of former foreign ministers, linked with governments of varied political orientations, from Argentina to Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, and Peru. Strong declarations from a wide array of influential Latin Americans joined the chorus.
Next, sitting governments began to join in the criticism. To date, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico have joined in insisting the vote be delayed. Peru is expected to do so soon, and Canada and some European governments that have shares in the IDB may get on board as well, taking their cue from the shifting momentum in the region. Other governments are reviewing their options. What binds the diverse group is an interest in defending Latin American interests and autonomy against an overzealous White House and a desire to avoid regional polarization. It remains unclear if the gambit will work, but the likelihood of postponement is increasing by the day.
Although Claver-Carone still commands a majority of the region’s governments behind his candidacy, that is hardly the acclamation the Trump administration was expecting in June, when it made its surprise and unprecedented—the United States has never nominated an American for the post—announcement. In some ways, securing the IDB’s top job should not be difficult for the United States: Latin America is internally divided and economically battered, and most of the region’s governments are either relatively close to or deeply intimidated by Washington. Even nationalists such as Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador have acquiesced to Trump’s hard-line tactics and bullying, as demonstrated during his warm and friendly Washington visit last month.
And yet, by pushing forward with Claver-Carone’s candidacy, the Trump administration seems to have crossed several lines.