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IDB's Moreno: Looking to build a Latin consensus

Luis Alberto Moreno clearly knows how to wield influence in Washington: while serving as ambassador to the U.S. over the past seven years, he helped Colombia obtain $4 billion in American aid.

Luis Alberto Moreno clearly knows how to wield influence in Washington: while serving as ambassador to the U.S. over the past seven years, he helped Colombia obtain $4 billion in American aid. Now he will need to demonstrate a similar prowess with countries in his native Latin America.

Moreno was chosen to head the Inter-American Development Bank in July, winning the most divisive leadership election in the bank's 46-year history. The Colombian diplomat rode the backing of the U.S. to defeat Brazil's João Sayad, an IDB vice president who had the support of heavyweights Argentina and Venezuela. Bolivia, Chile and Haiti also voted against Moreno.

The ambassador's lobbying skills did succeed in winning support from countries across Latin America, including Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay, thereby averting a north-south split. "The countries voted with a pragmatic criterion, not an ideological one," says a bank insider. Ultimately, Moreno won the support of 26 of the bank's 47 member countries, including 20 of the 28 nations of the Americas.

Moreno, 52, now needs to build bridges to those Latin countries that did not vote for him. One way he hopes to do so is by emphasizing IDB programs that enjoy a consensus, such as infrastructure development, which he calls a "unifying theme."

"His major challenge will be to establish his presence and profile in Latin America," says Michael Shifter, vice president for policy of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank. Unlike his predecessor, Enrique Iglesias, who ran the bank for 17 years and was once Uruguay's foreign relations minister, Moreno is relatively unknown in much of the region. "Moreno is a consummate wheeler-dealer. There isn't a visionary aspect to his personality," says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based liberal research group.

Moreno, whose career includes stints as a journalist, a manager of financial companies and Colombia's Economic Development minister, takes up the reins at the development bank in October. Talking by telephone from his ambassadorial residence, he discussed his plans with Institutional Investor Contributing Editor Lucy Conger.

Institutional Investor: Some important large member countries opposed your election -- Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. How do you intend to bring them back into the fold?

Moreno: It was logical to have different visions from different countries. Once elected I have to be president of all member countries. I hope to meet with all the key countries. Brazil is hugely important for the bank, and I will work closely with the Brazilian government and private sector.

You were seen as Washington's choice for the IDB post. How can you overcome this image?

I'm not only the choice of the U.S. I'm very proud of the support of the U.S. and the 19 other [regional] countries that voted for me.

Venezuela is gaining influence in the region by offering financing and oil subsidies to various countries. How do you expect to work with the Hugo Chávez government?

The very first head of state I visited in this campaign was President Chávez. I hope to work with the government of Venezuela as with all other governments.

What is your vision for Latin America? What do you propose to work on with the countries in the region?

A lot can be done to advance social cohesion and combat poverty. If you look at Latin America in general, infrastructure is the area where most investment is needed. It is a unifying theme, certainly involving public-private partnerships, and developing the private sector is a mandate of the bank.

Many countries are feeling reform fatigue and electing leaders from the left. Do you feel the Washington consensus is still relevant?

The whole reform agenda is tired and needs to be reenergized. We have to focus on social cohesion for Afro-Latinos and indigenous populations. People in real poverty should be the logical focus of multilateral institutions -- the whole sense of how to give people a piece of the rock.

China has requested admission as a member of the IDB. What is the status of that request?

This is an open discussion, it's ongoing.