- Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Venezuela appears to have lost its campaign for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, a dramatic setback for President Hugo Chavez's bid to become the top international scourge of President Bush.
At the United Nations in New York, diplomats said Venezuela had finally given up its candidacy for Latin America's rotating seat on the council and had begun negotiations with its U.S.-backed rival, Guatemala, to find a compromise candidate.
Chavez's bid was reportedly weakened by the widespread adverse reaction to his frenetic speech last month at the U.N. General Assembly, in which he called Bush "the devil" and said the podium still smelled of sulfur from Bush's appearance there the day before.
But analysts say Chavez's loss also indicates that many nations are unwilling or unable to resist Washington's pressure.
"It's a very hardball kind of game that gets played here," said James Paul, executive director of the New York think tank, Global Policy Forum. "Everyone assumes that the United States knows how each country votes and will punish and reward them accordingly."
Six rounds of voting were held Wednesday, but like the 35 rounds held last week, Guatemala received a majority of votes yet failed to get the required two-thirds majority of the 192-member General Assembly. More negotiations were scheduled for today to try to break the deadlock.
Venezuela is known to be pressing for its ally Bolivia as a compromise, but Guatemala views that country as unacceptably close to Chavez. Other nations mentioned for the seat include Brazil and Uruguay, which lean toward Chavez in his dispute with Washington, and Paraguay and the Dominican Republic, which are relatively neutral.
Although the General Assembly voting has been secret, diplomats are well aware of media reports in recent years quoting British and American officials as saying that U.S. spy agencies conduct widespread eavesdropping against diplomatic missions at the United Nations.
"Everyone is aware that the United States listens in to all their meetings, phone calls and cables," Paul said. "And they know the United States has a lot of weight with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, all kinds of mechanisms. The United States will push a few buttons and some country in Africa starts to hurt all of a sudden. It's an instrument they play all the time, like an organ with lots of stops, buttons and keys."
As a result, Paul noted, Venezuela is at a distinct disadvantage in its year-long global campaign of checkbook diplomacy -- countries receiving Chavez's oil largesse can cast their secret ballots against him with no fear that he will find out, while the United States can use surveillance to reward loyalty and punish disloyalty with precision and certitude.
William Ratliff, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, said Chavez's anti-Bush rhetoric "torpedoed" Venezuela's hopes of winning the seat. But he cautioned that Chavez's loss should not be interpreted as sympathy for Washington.
"Many people agreed with much of the substance of (Chavez's) critique of Bush and U.S. policy," Ratliff said. "But not everyone confuses diplomacy with name-calling, with shooting from the hip, as Chavez does."
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