It was his last weekend in office, but Enrique Iglesias, the outgoing president of the Inter-American Development Bank and the most prominent Latin American figure in Washington during the last 17 years, was working hard and planning ahead to serve his region.
On Saturday, Iglesias convened a meeting of 16 foreign finance ministers to discuss how to aid small countries in the Western Hemisphere struggling with energy costs.
"Something has to be done to help those countries feeling the heat of oil prices. The increase is eating up all their assistance," he said in an interview. He said more investment was required in Latin America's oil, gas, coal and other energy resources.
During his tenure, Iglesias tripled the bank's portfolio, from $34 billion in 1988 to $100 billion this year. He opened up membership to European countries and South Korea and launched negotiations to bring in China, which promises to become a vast and necessary trading partner with Latin America.
"An opening toward China will open the door," Iglesias said. "It is a unique opportunity for increasing demand and a revalorization of commodities."
On Saturday, 140 guests, including Latin American finance ministers who had come to attend annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, gathered to show their appreciation at a farewell dinner.
Peter Hakim, director of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research group, described Iglesias as "an economic liberal with a big heart. He has been our guide for 17 years and we expect him to continue making enormous contributions."
Although Iglesias is a popular figure, there has been some criticism of his management. Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit whistle-blower support organization, said Iglesias did little to curb a long-standing problem of some bank field officials diverting funds to local beneficiaries. Iglesias endorsed reforms at the bank's annual meetings, but critics said his management style remained hands-off.
In his future capacity as president and coordinator of the Ibero-American Summit, Iglesias said he wanted to focus on migration issues. With 45 million immigrants in the United States from the rest of the Americas, he said, "this is a very delicate issue. . . . We have to work on solutions to make this process more organized, more humane."
Under Iglesias, the bank expanded its activities to deal with such social problems as domestic violence. The last decade was one of survival through debt crises, and now is the time for reforms, he stressed.
"We don't see countries as our clients but as partners. We try to play a political role . . . but our advice and non-financial services are more important," he said.
Iglesias was known for keeping a rigorous schedule of work, travel and seeking solutions to the region's problems. "We wanted people to feel the bank was useful, that they had a friend working for them, standing by them," he said.
Warm Welcome for Lebanese
Lebanese Economy Minister Sami Haddad said Sunday that his country's delegation to the U.N. General Assembly, led by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, had been met with an "unbelievable outpouring of support" from U.S., U.N., European and Saudi officials.
In an interview here, Haddad said the international goodwill was expressed at meetings in New York and Washington, with many countries offering to help Lebanon cope with its postwar reconstruction costs with "no political strings attached."
Mohammed Chatah, an aide to Siniora, explained that in return, Lebanon would have to reform certain institutions, rein in expenditures and reduce its debt. Before Syria pulled its troops out of Lebanon in the spring and a new parliament was elected this summer, pro-Syrian legislators always blocked such reforms.
"We have a different parliament now. This time we decide for ourselves," Chatah said.
A donors conference is to take place in December in Beirut, and pledges of more than $5 billion could translate into checks, Haddad explained. Both he and Lebanon's Central Bank governor, Riad Salameh, said national consensus should be achieved first.
"We have to cook it in our kitchen. The livelier the debate the better, until we reach a consensus," he said. "The Lebanese have always been obsessed with politics; now it is time to concentrate on economics."
The same notion was expressed by Finance Minister Jihad Azour during a dinner Saturday at the residence of Lebanon's ambassador, Farid Abboud.
"We have to work out our reforms and make them our own, before people tell us what to do. We have an opportunity now we cannot miss," Azour said. Lebanon, which has bank holdings of $60 billion, has a $36 billion debt. It spends 165 percent of its gross domestic product to service the debt, which is mostly public.
New Face on Embassy Row
Alexandros Mallias, Greece's new ambassador to Washington, arrived yesterday to succeed George Savvaides, who returned to Athens after three years in the post.