One of the longest battles for a seat on the powerful U.N. Security Council ended Tuesday with victory for Panama after U.S.-backed Guatemala and leftist Venezuela led by anti-American President Hugo Chavez withdrew to end a deadlock.
The General Assembly's overwhelming vote for Panama on the 48th ballot was greeted with loud applause by diplomats in the packed chamber, who had been trying since Oct. 12 to choose a candidate from Latin America and the Caribbean to serve a two-year term on the U.N.'s most powerful body.
In the secret ballot, Panama received 164 votes _ more than the required two-thirds majority of the 189 voting members in the 192-nation assembly. Venezuela got 11 votes, Guatemala 4 votes, Barbados 1 vote, and 9 countries abstained.
General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, who announced the results, said she was "delighted" at Panama's victory and that all five new members of the Security Council had now been chosen _ Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa. They will join the 15-seat council on Jan. 1.
Pledge to seek unity
Panamanian President Martin Torrijos Espino said he was honored his country was elected. Panama will try to unify Latin American and Caribbean nations and help the council reach consensus on sticky issues, he said.
"We have always aspired to ... be the force that can unite positions," Torrijos said during a visit to the Mexico Pacific coast resort of Acapulco, where he is attending a meeting on efforts to help disabled people.
Panama's election was virtually assured last week when the foreign ministers of Guatemala and Venezuela met and agreed to withdraw in favor of the Central American nation, which they called a bridge between the northern and southern Latin America. The 34 Latin American and Caribbean nations endorsed Panama as the group's candidate on Friday.
The race for the council seat became highly political because of the U.S. support for Guatemala and Chavez' reference to President Bush as "the devil" in his speech in September to the General Assembly ministerial meeting. A number of countries said Chavez' anti-Bush comments hurt Venezuela's chances.
Guatemala led Venezuela in all but one of the 47 ballots, but could not muster the two-thirds support needed to win in the General Assembly. The standoff was the third-longest battle for a Security Council seat in the U.N.'s 61-year history.
The second highest number of ballots for a council seat was 52, set in 1960. After that, the General Assembly agreed to allow Poland and Turkey to serve on the council for one year each.
The record number is 155 rounds of voting, set in 1980. The General Assembly gave up on Cuba and Colombia after 154 rounds and chose Mexico on the 155th, in early January of that year.
Guatemala's U.N. Ambassador Jorge Skinner-Klee thanked each of the 116 countries that supported its candidacy and extended "heartfelt congratulations" to Panama.
"Although we regret the polarization of the campaign for reasons that did not arise from our own conduct, we are proud of Guatemala's campaign ... carried out with dignity, respect and collegiality," he said.
Skinner-Klee said Guatemala has waited nearly 61 years for the opportunity to be a member of the Security Council and has already presented its candidacy to the Latin American and Caribbean group for a seat in 2012-2013.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said it was "too bad" that Guatemala did not win.
"We look forward to working with Panama," he said. "We're sure they'll play a constructive role."
Bolton reiterated that the United States took the "extraordinary" step of intervening in the race "because of the risk of disruption to the council that we saw Venezuela bringing."
Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas chided Bolton for saying last week that the United States achieved its objective when Venezuela stepped down.
"For the big countries, it should be clear that ... the assembly will not accept imposition and it exercises its freedom in democracy," he said. "We should also remember that some embraces end up by killing you, such as a bear hug, and we should remember the strength and the power of the General Assembly," Arias Cardenas said.