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Mark Weisbrot


Brazil Could Have an Impact by Supporting Sachs' Reform Candidacy for the World Bank Presidency

Posted: 03/15/2012 5:16 pm

One of the most important changes that Lula da Silva brought to Brazil was in its foreign policy. As he has described it, prior administrations looked almost exclusively to the United States or Europe for their orientation in the world. But Lula saw that there was much to be gained in the world of South-South relations, including of course Latin American integration, as well as a confidence in Brazil's own abilities and choices.

These efforts have often involved standing up to the United States and its allies in the G-7 counties, as when Brazil helped lead the walkout of developing countries in the WTO negotiations in Cancun, in 2003. Brazil has also run into conflict with U.S. foreign policy: in Latin America, on the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, Brazil's support for Bolivia and Venezuela, its opposition to the expansion of military bases in Colombia and the 2009 military coup in Honduras; and the Middle East, where Brazil has tried to slow the march toward war with Iran.

The World Bank is one of the most important multilateral institutions impacting the developing world, and it has always been controlled by Washington, with its president chosen in a secretive process by the U.S. government. Beginning in 2007, when the Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz resigned from the Bank presidency in a scandal, Brazil has called for an "open, democratic and transparent process... based on the merits of a plurality of candidates regardless of nationality", to choose the president.

Now for the first time in 68 years there is an open challenge, from economist Jeffrey Sachs. In a few weeks he has gained the support of six countries. If chosen, Sachs would be the first World Bank president who is qualified for the job. All previous presidents were bankers, political appointees, or worse. Sachs, by contrast, has spent the last decade promoting development in poor countries. He was an important advocate for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which has saved millions of lives. He has also been a strong proponent of debt cancellation in poor countries. His Millennium Villages project has shown that foreign aid can be used constructively, in an integrated way, to increase agricultural productivity and reduce the toll of disease.

Of course Sachs is still an American, and many would prefer someone from a developing country. But no such candidate has been nominated, and the nomination process will close in a week. So the choice is between Sachs, and another Washington political appointee -- Larry Summers is the reported first choice at this point -- who will do what the U.S. government and its corporations want. Sachs, by contrast, is independent of both U.S. political parties and their corporate sponsors, and has not hesitated to stand up to all of these interests when necessary.

Poor countries such as Kenya and East Timor have risked punishment from Washington by nominating Sachs; Brazil is much less vulnerable and will have much more impact if it supports the first independent, qualified candidate for the job.

This article was published by Folha de São Paulo (Brazil), March 14, 2012.