Former U.S. Ambassador John Feeley, executive director of the Center for Media Integrity of the Americas, urged the U.S. Treasury Department on September 2 to take a closer look at the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), “led by an individual named Dante Mossi, who has become the banker to dictators”.
For some time now, CABEI's executive president, the Honduran Mossi, has been the target of criticism from those who question not only the high living expenses and salaries the bank pays to its officials and representatives but also the generosity with which it distributes resources to Central America's authoritarian regimes.
Feeley made the warning about Mossi at an event called ‘Religious Persecution and Closing Civic Space in Nicaragua’, organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), adding that “billions of dollars have been lent to Nicaragua, with very loose oversight, which leads to corruption”.
The U.S diplomat detailed that “CABEI raises its capital in the international capital markets, including the United States, and lends 23% of its portfolio to Nicaragua. Something is rotten down there, and I would investigate it quickly”.
CONFIDENCIAL spoke with seven sources who know the Honduran banker and his trajectory. They shared their opinions about the failures and omissions committed when he was elected almost four years ago. They also criticized the lavish flexibility with which he administers the Bank's resources, assuring that it is his way of getting votes to stay at the helm of the multilateral entity for five more years.
Although an interview with CABEI's executive president was requested, he responded “I am on a Board of Directors' mission and I invite you to join our next regional media meeting”, copying Salvador Sacasa, the Bank's Communication and External Relations advisor, in the e-mail.
Last August 19, at CONFIDENCIAL's insistence, Sacasa responded that “CABEI carries out regional press conferences in which topics related to institutional management and the different programs and projects that are executed at the level of all the countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and its extra-regional partner countries are discussed”.
“I reiterate once again what the executive president indicated: that we will be inviting you to the next meeting to be held on a date yet to be determined, in which you will be able to ask all the questions of your interest to the highest representative of the bank directly”. That invitation has not yet arrived.
Mossi was not the favorite
Almost four years after his election, sources familiar with CABEI emphasize the unusual way in which the stars aligned for the Honduran to become the Bank's executive president in November 2018. He replaced the also Honduran Nick Rischbieth, obviating the agreement to rotate the nationality of the officials who hold that position.
The Salvadoran political scientist Napoleón Campos believes that “the decision to elect Mossi was political”, because the then president of Honduras, (extradited to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges), Juan Orlando Hernández, negotiated Mossi's nomination with Daniel Ortega, and that “without further ado, [then Salvadoran president, Salvador] Sánchez Cerén joined. Unfortunately, the other voters folded,” he adds.
A professor who knows how multilateral financial organizations work, and who spoke to CONFIDENCIAL under the condition of anonymity, recalled that Ortega had proposed Francisco Mayorga, former president of the Central Bank. However, the violent response of the Nicaraguan regime during the April Rebellion, which resulted in the death of more than 355 citizens, ruled out the possibility of electing a Nicaraguan.
This reduced the number of candidates, leaving the Honduran Mossi; the Salvadoran Héctor Dada Sánchez, (who did not have the support of his country, according to political scientist Campos), in addition to CABEI Vice President, the Costa Rican Alejandro Rodríguez, who also could not go ahead “due to lack of support from the [Bank] management and the governor for Costa Rica”, recalled a professional who closely followed the election process.
The professor explained that “Nicaragua formed an alliance with Honduras to achieve the election of Dante, who became committed to Nicaragua in return for this ‘favor’.” Part of the agreement would have been to marginalize Vice President Rodriguez, because he had established a committee to filter Nicaragua's financing proposals, given the aggravated political situation in 2018, he added.
Another element that stands out is the high-level consultancies hired by the Bank. Salvadoran Campos says that the election of Mossi was highly criticized, because “the voters overlooked the investment made by the Bank, by hiring Heidrick & Struggles, a firm of global prestige in the selection of international officials. It was strange that Mr. Mossi was included in the final shortlist, despite not being a banker of record, and possibly not the best qualified by the recruiting firm,” he noted.
A consultant with experience in international cooperation, who requested anonymity, recalled that Mossi came from working for the World Bank in Ghana, and that his position was not the strongest when he applied to head CABEI, but he was elected “with the Nicaraguan vote, which explains his attitude towards Nicaragua”. After taking office, he commented in several forums that it had also been a surprise, the source said.
Many, inside and outside the Board, were also surprised that the Bank had chosen another Honduran, he added.
Be careful who you lend money to, Dante
In the opinion of former Ambassador Feeley, Mossi is “the banker of the dictators”. Perhaps he says so because most of the Bank's active operations (26% of the total, according to former Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez) are in Nicaragua, a country with poor governance and even less transparency. Another possibility could be the support given to former President Hernandez of Honduras in the midst of his election campaign, or to another strongman of the region: the Salvadoran Nayib Bukele.
In addition to the ‘gratitude’ that, according to sources, Mossi owes to the governments of those three countries, there would be the intention of the Honduran to guarantee the necessary votes to stay five more years, when his term ends in November 2023.
What motivates Mossi is “to have the votes to be reelected. That is why he conceals the reality of a country like El Salvador that has a very high-risk situation; another country like Nicaragua with this terrible human rights situation, and rather comes out to defend Ortega,” says the former representative of Costa Rica to CABEI, Ottón Solís.
“From a public and political point of view, Dante should not make statements criticizing the sanctions and supporting a government that has been criticized by almost all the countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) and Europe. Dante's support personally and as executive president of CABEI to the regime is ethically questionable. By playing politics, he has not been a president of stature”, the professor said.
In this attempt at re-election, the Bank's executive president would be putting at risk the rating of this regional entity, by concentrating almost half of its active operations in two countries such as Nicaragua (26% of the total) and El Salvador (18%), which have international credit ratings of ‘B-’ and ‘CCC’ respectively, explained former Foreign Minister Martinez.
“With these actions, the board is risking the Bank's credit rating," he added, wondering what would happen if one of these countries were to default or receive a lower rating.
The professor noted that the amount of CABEI's portfolio with Nicaragua went from US$1.3 billion in December 2020 to US$1.6 billion at the end of 2021. “The problem is that Nicaragua could return to being a highly indebted country, and that would deteriorate CABEI's portfolio and rating”.
Campos believes that when Mossi “financially supports tyrannical projects such as in Nicaragua and El Salvador, he undermines CABEI's faculties”, adding that “the most extreme example has been to support the bitcoin corruption operation in El Salvador”.
He adds that “the experiment of Mr. Bukele and his deputies,” to make bitcoin a legal tender in El Salvador, “turned into a global and local financial failure... generating an unprecedented economic ruin. The bitcoin operation has meant throwing away more than USD 200 million that CABEI itself agreed to redirect, which were originally earmarked for development projects”.
Five more years, exactly like the last five?
Sources believe that if Dante Mossi is going to seek five more years at the head of CABEI, and all those consulted agree that he has the right to try, then his constituents should, at the very least, evaluate the Bank's financial performance during the Honduran's tenure.
“According to CABEI's report, its risk rating has been improved or maintained, but from September 2020 to September 2021, its profits fell from $118 million to $77 million,” because financial income decreased, reserves increased, and staff salaries and benefits grew 25% from $24.7 million to $30.7 million, the professor explained.
Solís assures that Mossi has taken actions so that CABEI directors can “maintain the abusive salary, detestably abusive, that CABEI directors enjoy” and protected all the privileges granted, including intercontinental travel, and the generous per diems that accompany it.
“He has paid outside lawyers to the Bank, in addition to putting the staff to work to protect those salaries, because that is the way to have the directors' vote.
The question that must be asked is how Dante Mossi can make these statements [in support of Ortega], and yet the CABEI board is silent. It is silent because he has enthusiastically helped them protect their enormous privileges”, he said.
The former Costa Rican representative to the Bank, Eduardo Trejos, said that "Mossi should stop thinking about his own benefits and do what is best for CABEI and its governance", and that if he wants to go on for five more years, “he should present the results of his administration and the conditions in which he received the Bank and in which he is handing it over. The indicators must be aligned to provide the countries with better credit conditions and a stronger Bank than the one he received, for the good of the members and their populations”.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff