Guatemala tops Venezuela for Security Council seat but misses needed majority in 3 rounds

Monday, October 16th 2006, 7:00 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Guatemala topped Venezuela in the first three rounds of voting Monday for a U.N. Security Council seat, but it failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to win a two-year term on the powerful United Nations body.

The results were an embarrassment to Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who had waged a highly public campaign on the claim that his nation would use its seat on the council to speak out against the United States. The U.S. and its allies argued that Venezuela's stance could stymie the council and undermine its credibility.

Guatemala, whose candidacy had been backed by the United States, received 109 votes in the first round, 114 in the second and 116 in the third _ short by about 10 votes of the two-thirds majority. Venezuela's chances appeared to fade as the voting proceeded _ it received 76 votes, then 74, then 70.

If the next round of voting is also inconclusive, other Latin American nations will be allowed to join the race to break the deadlock. Possible compromise candidates include Uruguay and Chile.

``We're not competing with our brother country,'' said Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas. ``We are competing with the most powerful country on the planet in its own house.''

Diplomats said Chavez may have also 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 Bush ``the devil'' _ a speech criticized even by U.S. politicians who have reached out to Chavez.

Cardenas complained that the United States has pressured countries worldwide to prevent Venezuela from winning the rotating seat.

``We are going to continue and we are going to call on countries of dignity, strength, independence and autonomy, which is what the United Nations needs right now,'' Arias Cardenas told state television from New York.

Guatemala has the support of Colombia, apparently most of Central America, Europe and other countries. Some diplomats had expressed concern that Washington's support might actually hurt its bid by turning the contest into a U.S. vs. Chavez battle.

Venezuela has served four times on the Security Council. Guatemala, emerging from years of 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.

The 192-nation General Assembly elected South Africa, Indonesia, Italy and Belgium to the four other open seats in the council. They will start their terms on the council on Jan. 1, replacing Tanzania, Japan, Denmark and Greece.

All of those nations won seats easily. Attention throughout the run-up to the vote had focused on the race between Guatemala and Venezuela.