Luis Alberto Moreno: “Latin America needs predictable leaders” | International
Luis Alberto Moreno (Philadelphia, 68 years old) is a great connoisseur of Latin America. In September 2020, the Colombian politician, economist and diplomat left the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) after 15 years. Previously, as ambassador to Washington between 1998 and 2005, he was one of the architects of Plan Colombia to combat guerrillas and drug trafficking. He also promoted the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. Based in the US capital, over the weekend he briefly returned to the country to present his book at the Bogota Book Fair!Go! Seven bold ideas for a more prosperous, fair and happy Latin America (Debate).
Ask. What is the main problem in Latin America?
Response. The inequality. If one goes back in time it has been something permanent, it is our curse. We have always had the highest levels in the world, and that obviously creates very deep tensions in societies between those who have more and those who have less. In a country like Colombia, a person in poverty takes 11 generations to leave, to be part of the middle class, according to an OECD study. In northern European countries it is a third of the time.
P. In the book he tells the story of a young man of about 12 years, a caddythat you drowned when you were a child because you were forced to pick up a golf ball in a lake at a club in Bogotá, and that what happened then seems to you the quintessence of Latin American history.
R. I wanted to write this book thinking about the enormous opportunities I have had in life, the privilege of serving my country for many years, at the Colombian Embassy, as Minister of Economic Development and, later, 15 years at the IDB. I wanted to write something that could contrast with that theory of failure that we have in Latin America, without being innocent about the realities. And when I was in that process, I talked to my mom and she told that story, I never knew it until three years ago.
P. It also remembers the people who died on the streets of Guayaquil at the beginning of the pandemic, without being treated. And those two stories illustrate their approaches
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R. The other contrast was to see what happened in Ecuador when the pandemic exploded. It was one of the first countries in which it coincided that a number of students came to study in Europe, they went to Guayaquil for a marriage, and that exploded the covid and overwhelmed the health systems. It is becoming aware, taking into account that these issues matter, and that we have to behave as better citizens. And in this sense, the one who has the most is the one who has the most to give. It is almost a Catholic principle, which comes from the Bible.
P. What is needed for “a more prosperous, just and happy America”?
R. It’s a combination of things. Prosperity clearly stems from economic growth. What we saw in the last 12 years was that at the time we were able to get out of the shock of the international financial crisis, but over time that brought with it one of the decades of lowest growth in the region. Then came covid, and now the war. All this has effects on poverty. The world experienced a peace bonus during the last 30 years that coincides with the fall of the Berlin Wall, which accelerated globalization, brought with it growth and low inflation. Today all of this is being reconsidered, between the cold war between the United States and China and the whole situation with Russia and Ukraine, which practically takes 15% of the world’s grain production from the market. We are going to have a risk of famine in some countries that are not food producers. All this set of things is the challenge we have, but opportunities also open up.
P. The geopolitical blocs are becoming more pronounced with the war in Ukraine. Does that hinder the integration and trade that you promote?
R. We are not going to have that sense of globalization that we had before. We are at the dawn of what this new world is going to be, which will surely have new institutional arrangements, it will probably be more regional, but from now on we have to think about how to conquer these opportunities.
P. How to overcome the stray dog complex?
P. It is a saying that exists in Brazil. When they lost the World Cup final at the Maracana against Uruguay, the famous Maracanazo, that generated a feeling that was almost like an inferiority complex. We have that complex within our societies of thinking that there is something that limits us, and many times it is ourselves. There are a huge number of examples of Latin Americans in the arts, sports, who do not have that complex and, on the contrary, manage to build truly admirable things.
P. Why are “predictable leaders” needed?
R. I had the privilege of meeting many presidents. Latin America has always had these populist tensions, many times populism leads societies to engage in discussions and not look ahead. It is the great difference that I observed when I went to Asia; the big discussion there is always where we are going, this is where we were. I got to thinking about presidents who were no longer active, but they had some enormous challenges and they did it with enormous success. It is the case of the president [brasileño Fernando Henrique] Cardoso in Brazil, who had to make a new economic plan. or the president [mexicano Ernesto] Zedillo, who lived through the entire tequila crisis. or the president [chileno Ricardo] Lagos, which came after the Pinochet government. Finally, those types of leaders managed to converge in uniting their societies around common purposes, regardless of whether it was with enormous debates. As always, when one achieves consensus processes, he doesn’t get everything he wants. But society, as a whole, advances.
P. What is the collection account of polarization, which has characterized Colombian politics in recent years?
R. It has several elements. That distances people from politics, makes them skeptical of the proposals of politics and its leaders. It has, of course, consequences for the economy, because it does not produce the level of confidence that is required to grow. But, above all, it takes the country’s attention away from fundamental and future issues.
P. Close to the end of your term, how would you assess the Government of Iván Duque, who worked with you at the IDB?
R. He is already in a phase in which it is history that will have to define what his government is. But judging by the polls, people clearly expected more from him. Let’s wait to see how history is written.
P. You are a diplomat, and you know Washington politics better than anyone. Bogotá’s relationship with Joe Biden’s White House has suffered turbulence due to the support for Trump’s re-election from sectors of the ruling party in Colombia. Are those wounds closed or are they open?
R. I live in Washington, but I’m in a totally different world. Today I work in an investment bank. Anyway, I’m not in the day to day. I can say one thing that seems more important to me than any other. I had the privilege of knowing Biden since I arrived at the embassy in Washington and over the years I talked a lot with him, I worked very closely. Over the years, he has followed the Colombian issues very closely, and he really has it in his heart.
P. How should Latin America deal with Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela?
R. Clearly there is a government in Venezuela that is not a democracy, that is not doing the best for its citizens, that has taken away the dreams of so many millions of Venezuelans who have had to leave their country. But I think that we must also take into account that phrase that Lord Palmerston had, which said that countries do not have permanent friends, but rather permanent interests.
P. Should Colombia, in particular, reestablish some kind of relationship with Venezuela?
R. If there is the opportunity for a trade relationship, the opportunity to improve relations at the border, that is good for both countries.
P. How do you rate the management of Mauricio Claver-Carone, his successor at the head of the IDB?
R. In that I have always had the theory that one leaves the stalls and, as artists do, is on stage, turns off the light, leaves the microphone and leaves.
P. Should the tradition of a Latin American at the head of the IDB be recovered?
P. What are the reasons that lead you to remain optimistic about Latin America?
R. When you look at the natural resources that we have, especially the greatest resource, which is our people, this is a region that has enormous potential. How to get the best out of that potential has eluded us, but I still believe that we can’t leave here, it’s our neighborhood, we have to do better every day.
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