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The Presidency of The World Bank and the Third World

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I have had the fortune of knowing Jose Antonio Ocampo for many years, and I have followed his successful career closely. Born in Cali, Colombia in December of 1952, Ocampo is one of the most brilliant economists of his generation.

At a very young age, he led Fedesarrollo, one of the most influential Think Tanks in Latin America. He later became Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Director of the National Planning Department (Minister of Planning), Minister of Finance and Public Credit and Chairman of the Board of Banco de la República (Central Bank of Colombia).

His professional experience, his human values and above all his knowledge in the field of economic development (a field deeply studied by him and about which he has written several papers), led him to become the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and most notably the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, one of the most important jobs at that organization.

Ocampo has just been formally nominated by the G-11 -- a group of directors representing developing countries -- for the presidency of the World Bank. Together with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's finance minister, they are the first candidates of developing countries to be postulated for that position, which will be available at the end of June when the incumbent's term ends.

The World Bank's presidency has traditionally been occupied by an American thanks to a non-written agreement by which in turn, the presidency of the International Monetary Fund is occupied by a European. The White House has nominated Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a global health expert and president of Dartmouth College. This is why candidates Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala have little to no chance of success.

But as recently stated by Kevin P. Gallagher, associate professor of International Relations at Boston University, "If the decision is finally based on merit, as it should be, Ocampo will win: he is far and away better than any on the list of credible names, including President Barack Obama's nominee, Jim Yong Kim."

When asked by Annie Lowrey of The New York Times why he accepted the nomination, one that has inexplicably not been seconded by the government of his own country (something that generated a letter in supporting him from a large group of Colombian economists), Ocampo was very clear:

For two reasons. First, this is the first time the presidency of the World Bank has been subject to a competitive process. Every time before, the U.S. president has effectively named the president of the World Bank. Since this is the first time there's competition, I thought the developing-country candidates who were suitable for the job should be in the race. I felt a responsibility to put a stone in the road toward a democratic process.

"Second; based on the merits, I'm capable of doing this job. Among the three candidates, I have the broadest experience, with high-level positions at the regional, national and global level, and I've moved from policy making to non-governmental institutions to academia. If you're going to evaluate candidates by their merits and their capabilities, according to the rules, I think I'm a very competitive candidate.

It is difficult to imagine, given the current circumstances, a post where it is more important that the election of the candidate be based on merit. Nevertheless, it probably won't be. Even so, as recently stated by the Executive Secretary of ECLAC, Mexican Alicia Barcena, "the nomination of José Antonio Ocampo is full with substantial symbolism and is representative of the undeniable fact that in the 21st century the world must recognize and listen to the voice of developing countries - the GPD of which will represent more than half of the global GDP in the near future".

Ocampo has said he does not consider himself a Quixote, but a viable candidate. The truth is that even if he is not elected, he will go down in history as a pioneer in the struggle of third world countries for the democratization of one of the most important world development institutions. This will have to be added to the already countless merits in his career.