A defeat looms for Hugo Chávez

Por Venezuela Real - 20 de Octubre, 2006, 22:56, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

The Economist (print edition)
October 19, 2006

Venezuela and the UN  -  The empire fights back

IT WAS billed by Venezuela's foreign ministry as perhaps “the most important action in the history of [the country's] foreign policy”. There could be no doubt, officials from Hugo Chávez down had confidently proclaimed, that the United Nations General Assembly would choose Venezuela rather than Guatemala to fill one of Latin America's two rotating seats on the 15-member Security Council. Mr Chávez planned to use the seat to denounce the doings of the United States, which has backed Guatemala.

After 22 rounds of voting in two days this week, Mr Chávez's confidence was shown to be misplaced. In the first vote, Guatemala won 109 votes to 76. Most of the subsequent ballots showed a similar result. Neither country seemed likely to obtain the needed two-thirds majority of those voting, and each seemed to have enough votes to block the other.

For Venezuela, that amounted to a big defeat. In pursuit of the seat, Mr Chávez had criss-crossed the globe in recent months, signing deals, promising aid and receiving promises of support. The votes of the Arab League, the Caribbean Community and the African Union were all said to be in the bag, as well as those of Russia, China and five South American countries. A “new era” was about to begin at the Security Council in which the power of the “empire”, as Mr Chávez calls the United States, would finally be challenged by “the conscience of the peoples”.

Guatemala had quietly been lobbying for the post since 2002. It had already beaten Venezuela for a place on the newly formed UN Human Rights Council earlier this year. Rather to the embarrassment of its foreign minister, which insisted that its was an “independent voice”, it had the very public support of the United States.

What went wrong for Venezuela? Its ambassador to the UN predictably blamed American pressure and “bribes”. In reality, it probably never had as many votes as it claimed. Moderate Arab states were concerned at Mr Chávez's friendship with Iran; some in Asia dislike his equivocal attitude to North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Some Caribbean countries may also have deserted. Mr Chávez's speech to the General Assembly in September, in which he referred to George Bush as “the devil”, almost certainly cost it further support.

Chile, whose ruling coalition suffered a bitter split over Venezuela's candidacy, and which abstained, talked of a compromise candidate. Names mentioned have included Uruguay, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. But compromise may not come quickly: in 1979-80 a similar battle between Colombia and Cuba lasted for three months and 155 rounds. Mr Chávez said Venezuela would “not negotiate with anyone” and that the United States would have to “defeat us there on the battlefield.”

This has been a bad week for Mr Chávez. A friend, Rafael Correa, trailed in Ecuador's election (see article). That confirmed a trend in Latin American elections this year in which candidates seen as allies of Mr Chávez have lost. He will hope that trend will be bucked by Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader, in Nicaragua's election next month.

Mr Chávez himself faces a presidential vote on December 3rd. He leads the opinion polls. But many Venezuelans would prefer their president to spend less time and money overseas and more on crime, unemployment and corruption at home. “The country's in bad shape because he [Chávez] is worried about problems abroad,” said Jessica, a young mother in 19 de Abril, a working-class neighbourhood in Caracas. “He should pay attention first to the problems of our country.”


IT WAS billed by Venezuela's foreign ministry as perhaps “the most important action in the history of [the country's] foreign policy”. There could be no doubt, officials from Hugo Chávez down had confidently proclaimed, that the United Nations General Assembly would choose Venezuela rather than Guatemala to fill one of Latin America's two rotating seats on the 15-member Security Council. Mr Chávez planned to use the seat to denounce the doings of the United States, which has backed Guatemala.

After 22 rounds of voting in two days this week, Mr Chávez's confidence was shown to be misplaced. In the first vote, Guatemala won 109 votes to 76. Most of the subsequent ballots showed a similar result. Neither country seemed likely to obtain the needed two-thirds majority of those voting, and each seemed to have enough votes to block the other.

For Venezuela, that amounted to a big defeat. In pursuit of the seat, Mr Chávez had criss-crossed the globe in recent months, signing deals, promising aid and receiving promises of support. The votes of the Arab League, the Caribbean Community and the African Union were all said to be in the bag, as well as those of Russia, China and five South American countries. A “new era” was about to begin at the Security Council in which the power of the “empire”, as Mr Chávez calls the United States, would finally be challenged by “the conscience of the peoples”.

Guatemala had quietly been lobbying for the post since 2002. It had already beaten Venezuela for a place on the newly formed UN Human Rights Council earlier this year. Rather to the embarrassment of its foreign minister, which insisted that its was an “independent voice”, it had the very public support of the United States.

What went wrong for Venezuela? Its ambassador to the UN predictably blamed American pressure and “bribes”. In reality, it probably never had as many votes as it claimed. Moderate Arab states were concerned at Mr Chávez's friendship with Iran; some in Asia dislike his equivocal attitude to North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Some Caribbean countries may also have deserted. Mr Chávez's speech to the General Assembly in September, in which he referred to George Bush as “the devil”, almost certainly cost it further support.

Chile, whose ruling coalition suffered a bitter split over Venezuela's candidacy, and which abstained, talked of a compromise candidate. Names mentioned have included Uruguay, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. But compromise may not come quickly: in 1979-80 a similar battle between Colombia and Cuba lasted for three months and 155 rounds. Mr Chávez said Venezuela would “not negotiate with anyone” and that the United States would have to “defeat us there on the battlefield.”

This has been a bad week for Mr Chávez. A friend, Rafael Correa, trailed in Ecuador's election (see article). That confirmed a trend in Latin American elections this year in which candidates seen as allies of Mr Chávez have lost. He will hope that trend will be bucked by Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader, in Nicaragua's election next month.

Mr Chávez himself faces a presidential vote on December 3rd. He leads the opinion polls. But many Venezuelans would prefer their president to spend less time and money overseas and more on crime, unemployment and corruption at home. “The country's in bad shape because he [Chávez] is worried about problems abroad,” said Jessica, a young mother in 19 de Abril, a working-class neighbourhood in Caracas. “He should pay attention first to the problems of our country.”







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