updated 10/18/2006 9:21:58 PM ET 2006-10-19T01:21:58

Latin American countries could not break a deadlock over competing Venezuelan and Guatemalan bids for a U.N. Security Council seat on Wednesday, a failure that highlighted the regional divisions that will make compromise difficult.

Neither Venezuela nor Guatemala appears to have much chance of mustering the necessary two-thirds majority in the 192-nation General Assembly to win the seat, a scenario that would normally spur the region to present an alternate for the seat reserved for Latin American and Caribbean nations.

But the region’s 32 nations are so split in their allegiances, and there are so many other possible candidates, that no diplomats are talking compromise for now.

Should it be another Central American state — such as Costa Rica or Panama? Or a Caribbean nation like the Dominican Republic? Or Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil or Chile? All have been mentioned as possibilities.

“Who might that third candidate be?” Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal said. “There are probably two or three pretenders, so how do you decide who are those three pretenders?”

Closed-door meeting
Ambassadors from the region met behind closed doors Wednesday morning to discuss a way out of the deadlock, after the General Assembly held 22 rounds of inconclusive voting on Monday and Tuesday. Guatemala led all but one of those rounds — it tied Venezuela in the sixth — but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to wrap up the race.

Guatemala insists it can still win the race and Venezuela is refusing to step down.

So in the meantime, the region is prepared to go ahead with the two candidates fighting it out for now when the General Assembly resumes voting on Thursday morning, even if everyone agrees that they will be inconclusive.

“Probably we’ll be stuck like this for a couple of more days I think, until something comes up,” Mexico’s U.N. Ambassador Enrique Berruga said.

Normally, elections for the 10 rotating seats in the Security Council are conducted with little rancor, with seats allocated to each of the U.N. regions. The problem arises when two nations in the region both want the seat.

Guatemala had originally announced its intention for the seat in 2002, but Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched his own bid in 2004, vowing to use his voice in the council to speak out against the United States. Washington began campaigning against Venezuela’s candidacy, something that Chavez then exploited — claiming that the United States has tried to coerce nations into voting for Guatemala.

Chavez himself has not been averse to dangling aid money and other promises in exchange for votes — a practice that many other nations have employed in seeking a seat on the council in the past.

Some diplomats and experts say Chavez may have gone too far in his vitriolic speech at the General Assembly in September, when he famously railed against American hegemony and taunted U.S. President Bush.

Latin and Central American government officials — including from Guatemala — had bristled at American efforts to persuade them to oppose Venezuela. Yet Chavez’s remarks may have further splintered nations in the region.

“You’ve got an anti-American cloud hanging over this, but now I think there’s sort of an anti-anti-American backlash because Chavez has been so clumsy in articulating those grievances,” said Julia Sweig, director for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington D.C.

Much at stake for Chavez
Dropping out of the campaign would be embarrassing — and could be a costly political move — for Chavez precisely because he has campaigned so hard for the spot. He has so far refused to withdraw.

“Their aim was to humiliate Venezuela. I think they are the ones who come out humiliated now,” he said Tuesday night. “We’re demonstrating that every day it will be more difficult for the U.S. empire to dominate the world.”

Other diplomats sought to play down the divisions in the region, noting that nations have frequently competed for council seats reserved for their regions in the past. Indeed, the all-time record for the number of votes was 154 set in 1979, when two other nations from the region — Colombia and Cuba — battled for the spot.

After three months, Mexico was put forward and was elected in the 155th round.

“The fact that they have two countries in competition does not mean in any way that we are in disunity in the region,” Peru’s U.N. Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales said. “We simply have two countries looking for this seat. This has occurred in the past, this is not the most desirable situation, but it happened.”

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