While most Mexicans in the know were placing bets in the IMF Sweepstakes on such well-known names as central banker Agustín Carstens, former president Ernesto Zedillo and even former Finance chief and central banker Guillermo Ortiz, a dark horse pulls ahead in the final turn.
How could my own crystal ball have missed him? By all accounts, José Ángel Gurría has done a stupendous job as Secretary-General of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which boasts a membership of 34 of the worlds wealthiest countries and is frequently dubbed The Rich Boys Club .
Founded in 1961, the OECD uses its wealth of information on a broad range of topics to help governments foster prosperity and fight poverty through economic growth and financial stability. It helps to make sure that the environmental implications of economic and social development are taken into account.
Needless to say, Gurría is not very popular in current government circles because some of the OECDs studies and reports on Mexico have not exactly been puff pieces, painting the naked truth on poverty, income inequality, unemployment, monopolistic practices and a whole array of other issues.
That impartiality alone should make him a strong candidate. It goes without saying that the Felipe Calderón administration would probably not nominate him, but fortunately hes beyond needing his governments support because the quality of his performance is globally known.
This week, perhaps responding to criticism that the government was not promoting one of its own when the whole world was doing so, Finance Secretary Ernesto Cordero, somewhat regarded as a presidential hopeful, came out to say that Carstens was the best candidate for the IMF job. It remains to be seen if the administration would allow a gaping hole at the central bank in the midst of a fierce presidential race.
Meantime, Zedillos candidacy doesnt stand a chance because the Yale professor doesnt have hands-on experience in running a multilateral organization, and he lacks the diplomatic and political skills that are required. Elsewhere, it seems unlikely that Ortiz, ill-tempered but well regarded when he was a central banker, would leave his cushy job as chairman of the largest wholly-Mexican bank, Banorte.
So, is Gurría a serious challenger to the front-runner, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde? He isnt saying, at least not at this weeks financial conference in Brussels. Perhaps hes bearing in mind the old Mexican political dictum that he who moves when the picture is being taken will come out blurry.
When asked by the European edition of the Wall Street Journal if he sees himself as an IMF candidate, Gurría replied, There are no job openings right now. This is a human tragedy and the (IMF) is working normally and very effectively.
Gurrias CV complies with some of the most important requirements for the job. Hes an economist by training, with degrees from UNAM, Leeds University in Great Britain, Harvard and Southern Cal.
The diplomatic aspect of the IMF position is well covered, as Gurría was secretary of Foreign Affairs, in addition to having been secretary of Finance. Perhaps his strongest asset today is that he has taken to the OECD job as a fish to water, has developed key connections all over the world, and speaks six languages fluently. His French and English are superb, maybe a bit on the idiomatic and slangish side, but outstanding.
Also, he is no stranger to the intricacies of currency and bond markets. In Brussels this week, he began his speech at the Economic Forum by describing his work at the Mexicos Federal Electricity Commission on floating a bond.
You had to calculate and weigh 14 different currencies in order to figure out the interest payments youd have to make every month, he explained. That would be good practice for overseeing an expansion of the IMFs Special Drawing Rights, an international reserve asset based on a basket of currencies.
As a PRI-affiliated civil servant here, he has direct experience in resolving sovereign debt crises in Latin American during the 1980s and from his involvement in Brady bonds. That might prove handy in Europe.
At the helm of the OECD, hes overseen the accession of Chile, Estonia, Israel and Slovenia and carved out an active role in G-8 and G-20 summits.