WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mauricio Claver-Carone, the first U.S. citizen elected to lead Latin America’s main development bank, vowed on Monday to focus on strengthening its funding base and building more unity in the region after a contentious election.
In his first interview since Saturday’s election, Claver-Carone, a Trump loyalist and Cuba hard-liner, said his 67% victory gave him a strong mandate to lead the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
He stressed the need for unity and increased transparency at a time when Latin America and the Caribbean are reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, and downplayed prospects for his removal if Democrat Joe Biden should win the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Claver-Carone will take office on Oct. 1 and has pledged to serve only one five-year term.
In the run-up to the election, the IDB vote took on the appearance of a geopolitical battle between the Trump administration, which is keen to gain leverage in resource-rich Latin America and counter the rise of China, and some regional powers who wanted to retain control of the lender’s top job.
The bank has been led by Latin Americans since its inception in 1959, while the World Bank has historically been led by a U.S. citizen. Upending that tradition marked a further attack on multilateralism by U.S. President Donald Trump, critics argue.
Claver-Carone said he had already spoken with officials in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico, which sought to delay the vote until after the U.S. election, and assured them he would work with them to make the bank more “financially relevant”, transparent and representative.
Sixteen countries abstained from the vote, including European countries that have voting shares in the bank. China and another country did not participate in the vote.
Claver-Carone said he planned to assemble a diverse leadership team to head the bank within a month after taking office, but denied news reports that he had already promised certain plum jobs to people in Brazil and elsewhere.
“I did not offer anyone a position at any time during this campaign process,” he said, adding that he would work with the IDB’s board to fill the top jobs after he took office.
Claver-Carone said he was keen to ensure that Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, was better represented in line with its shareholding in the bank, but any jobs would be based the candidates’ qualifications.
He said he did not expect Biden to try to oust him if Trump lost the election. Any effort to do so would result in “a months-long acrimonious, divisive, paralyzing, counterproductive process,” he said.
“After the campaign, I have no doubt that we will all govern as Americans,” he said, adding that he would also execute the will of the board with regard to any policies toward Cuba.
Biden campaign spokesman Michael Gwin underscored the importance of the IDB in helping the region weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If Biden’s elected he’ll certainly review its role to ensure the effectiveness of that work,” he said.
Mark Feierstein, a senior adviser to former President Barack Obama, said opposition to Claver-Carone from the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee could make it difficult to win congressional approval to increase funding for the bank.
Claver-Carone said the urgent needs of the region required a more cohesive, unified response than in the past, and more coordination among international financial institutions.
“At the end of the day, the mandate that we have as a result of this election is towards making it a more financially relevant institution,” he said.
He said he would work closely with the World Bank, also headed by a Trump nominee, and the International Monetary Fund to better coordinate their work on countries in the region, beginning with a high-level meeting on Oct. 2, a day after he takes office.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)