- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA (AP) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton urged the people who run Latin America’s biggest development bank on Saturday not to turn their backs on the leftists in the region who parlayed the poor’s discontent into electoral victories.

Clinton didn’t name Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, whose presidents have all demonized Washington and expelled U.S. diplomats in recent months, referring to them rather as “Colombia’s neighbors.”

He said he doesn’t agree with their politics but “I do understand why poor people who feel powerless turn away from the messy world of democracy.”

“It shouldn’t be surprising that a reaction to global inequality and America’s withdrawal in the last 8 years” under the Bush administration produced governments “that are either too authoritarian or too hostile to market economics or both,” Clinton told Inter-American Development Bank’s governors.

“If I were you I’d keep talking to those people. I wouldn’t give up on them,” he said. “They may close their hand to you don’t you close yours to them. Keep the door open. Keep dreaming of a better tomorrow for everyone who shares this continent.”

Clinton, who earlier in the day visited a school in the coastal city of Barranquilla at which his foundation has joined forces with Colombian pop star Shakira, also suggested the bankers engage protesters who claim they have strayed from their 50-year-old institution’s mission of fighting poverty and inequality.

And the former president challenged those who run Latin America’s main development bank, which is seeking to a major capital infusion from members so it can lend $18 billion this year, to think more unconventionally.

They should be funding more labor-intensive and environmentally friendly projects, he said.

For example, Clinton suggested turning the world’s biggest landfills into energy producers by taking the scavengers who work them, turning them into recyclers and turning the waste into electric power.

“I think these development banks can be always changing the rules in a positive way,” he said.

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