Guatemala, Venezuela run for Security Council

Jorge Valero, Francisco Arias
Venezuela's ambassador to the United Nations Francisco Arias, left, and Deputy Foreign Minister Jorge Valero celebrate after gaining some votes during the fifth re-vote to choose a new non-permanent member of the Security Council at United Nations Headquarters in New York, on Monday.Seth Wenig / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Venezuela and Guatemala hit a deadlock Monday in their battle for a seat on the powerful U.N. Security Council, after 10 rounds of voting failed to anoint a winner to fill the spot reserved for Latin America.

Guatemala led in nine of the 10 ballots, but could not get the two-thirds majority necessary to win. Nonetheless, the results were a defeat for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who had campaigned by railing against the United States and promised to use his nation’s voice on the 15-member council to counter Washington’s influence.

The other four seats that will come open on the council were filled easily. South Africa, Indonesia, Italy and Belgium will start their terms on the council on Jan. 1, replacing Tanzania, Japan, Denmark and Greece.

Neither Venezuela nor Guatemala appeared willing to drop out of the election, which resumes on Tuesday with another round of balloting. Venezuela’s U.N. Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas complained the United States has pressured countries worldwide to prevent Venezuela from winning the two-year rotating seat.

“Venezuela will not withdraw — we’re fighting until the end,” Cardenas said. “We are fighting against the first power of the world, the owners of the universe. We’re happy, we’re strong and we will continue.”

'Ambivalence toward Guatemala'
The voting pattern fluctuated through the day. In the early rounds, Guatemala got 116 votes and Venezuela just 70. Then, in the sixth round of voting, they tied at 93 each. On the last vote, Guatemala led again, with 110 to Venezuela’s 77. That was still short of the 125 needed to win.

Diplomats said Chavez may have hurt his nation’s chances with a bombastic speech at the General Assembly debate in September, when he railed against the United States and called President George W. Bush “the devil” — a speech criticized even by U.S. politicians who had reached out to Chavez.

Yet the vote also reflected the ambivalence toward Guatemala, the preferred American candidate. Even Guatemalan Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal had earlier expressed discomfort about the highly public American campaign against Venezuela and in support of Guatemala.

After the voting ended Monday, Rosenthal said his nation was an “independent voice” that would vote according to its own policies.

“We are an independent country and frankly we resent it a bit being told we are going to toe the line of not only the United States but any other power,” Rosenthal said. “We make our own decisions.”

Diplomats said it was far too early to think of a compromise candidate to come forward to fill the seat that Argentina will vacate at the end of the year. Peru holds the other seat reserved for Latin America until Dec. 31, 2007.

The record number of ballots for a Security Council seat occurred in 1979, when the General Assembly held 154 unsuccessful votes to choose between Cuba and Colombia. Mexico was then put forward and won in the 155th round.

“Experience here in New York has been that in some cases they’ve done over 100 ballots,” U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. “We’ve done 10 today, that’s just really beginning to get your adrenaline going a little bit, we’ll just see how it goes.”

Not yet time for 3rd candidate
After that, Latin American states could agree to put forward a new candidate — but only if the other two agree to step down. Rosenthal acknowledged that the deadlock could not last forever.

“If this goes on for several days and we can see that there’s no movement in either of the candidates being able to get two-thirds of the vote, we probably would have to think of a third consensus candidate for the region,” Rosenthal said. “But we think the time hasn’t come for that yet.”

Possible other candidates include Uruguay, Costa Rica, Mexico or Chile, though Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley has said his nation is not seeking a spot on the council. That does not rule out Chile being put forward by someone else.

Venezuela has served four times on the Security Council. Guatemala, emerging from years of a brutal U.S.-backed dictatorship, has never had a seat but is a leading contributor of troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

In recent months, Chavez has collected pledges of support as he visited about a dozen countries from eastern Europe to Africa. Venezuela’s opposition leaders have accused Chavez of squandering millions of dollars on his Security Council campaign while neglecting domestic problems such as rampant crime and acute poverty.

The 10 non-permanent seats on the council are filled by the regional groups for two-year stretches. The other five are occupied by the veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.