The coming departure of long-serving president Enrique Iglesias is sparking an unprecedented fight over leadership of the Inter-American Development Bank with the United States backing a Colombian diplomat and the region's left-leaning governments supporting the IDB's current Brazilian vice president.
The world's oldest regional development bank, the IDB extends over 6,5 billion US dollars annually a year in loans to Latin America. Besides the bank's president establishes close links with the region's leaders and his influence extends far beyond infrastructure investment or soft loans.
The IDB presidency has increased its prominence in the 17 years that Uruguay's Enrique Iglesias has occupied the post. He has acted as political and diplomatic mediator in the region's crises to the point of becoming a sort of "hemispheric statesman," according to Arturo Valenzuela, head of Georgetown University's Centre for Latin American studies. No wonder then that the job is coveted by many.
So far the three official candidates are: Colombia's ambassador to the United States, Luis Alberto Moreno; IDB vice president for finance and administration, Joao Sayad of Brazil; and the head of Nicaragua's Central Bank, Mario Alonso. But other hopefuls may emerge before the July 16 deadline for submitting candidacies.
The bank's Council of Governors, which represents its 47 member nations, is scheduled to vote on July 27. The elections of the three previous presidents - the only ones the IDB has had since it was founded in 1959 - were practically a consensus by the time they reached the council.
Peter Hakim, president of Washington think-tank Inter-American Dialogue believes Mr. Moreno is leading the competition.
Latin American analyst Miguel Diaz agrees arguing "Moreno is known for being super competent, especially in handling the way Washington works, and I think that for the bank that experience is useful".
The Colombian was the first contender to emerge even before 74-year-old Iglesias announced he was stepping down next September. Last week the Colombian government said the candidate is backed by Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama.
Given the current close ties between Washington and Bogota, Mr. Moreno is expected to count with US support which holds 30% percent of the governors' votes. However that can also backfire because it identifies him too much with the White House's intentions, cautions Mr. Valenzuela.
In second place is the candidate from Brazil, which can rely on almost 11% of the votes and has greater political and economic weight than Colombia.
The distribution of support is reminiscent of "the divisions between the nations of the north and the south of the continent, of which we saw clear evidence during the OAS election", pointed out Mr. Hakim.
In order to secure the IDB presidency, a candidate must obtain the support of countries that represent the majority of the institution's capital and at the same time the majority of the governors of the 28 Western Hemisphere member-states.
To meet the first requirement, a candidate must have the backing of the IDB's large share holders - the United States, followed by Brazil, Argentina and Mexico - but to meet the second, the support of the smaller countries is essential.
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