UNITED NATIONS — Venezuela President Hugo Chavez suffered an embarrassing defeat Monday at the United Nations, where the General Assembly failed to give his county the necessary votes for a coveted seat on the Security Council.
Guatemala topped Venezuela in the first four rounds of voting, but it too failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to win a two-year term on the decision-making body.
Venezuela’s U.N. envoy vowed not to give up the fight.
“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,” Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas told state television in an interview from the U.N.
Chavez, who had waged a highly public campaign — including spending millions of petro-dollars to win support — accused the U.S. of waging a “dirty war” to defeat Venezuela’s candidacy.
“Go forth with the bayonet! Venezuela is going to the Security Council,” Chavez said Sunday, encouraging Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations,
The U.S. and its allies argued that Venezuela’s constant anti-American rhetoric could stymie the council and undermine its credibility.
Guatemala, whose candidacy had been backed by the U.S., won 109 votes in the first round, 114 in the second, 116 in the third and 110 in the fourth. Venezuela’s chances appeared to fade as the voting continued — it received 76 votes, then 74, 70, then 75.
The lack of a majority winner in four rounds of voting opened the door for others to join the race, in what could be a blow to both countries’ chances for a seat on the council. Now diplomats will search for a compromise candidate to break the deadlock.
“We’re not competing with our brother country,” Cardenas protested. “We are competing with the most powerful country on the planet in its own house.”
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 U.S. President George W. Bush the devil.
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.
“Certainly that was one of the most dramatic outcomes in these elections, between Guatemala and Venezuela because of the intense campaign that went behind it by Venezuela and of course by Guatemala and other regional powers that sought to participate in this campaign,” said Tanzania’s U.N. Ambassador Augustine Mahiga.
United States Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton reportedly lobbied hard Monday to beat back Venezuela’s bid. Bolton had been scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House Monday, but that meeting was cancelled so Bolton could personally monitor U.S. efforts at the U.N.
A Security Council seat could have given Venezuela concrete opportunities to challenge U.S. foreign policy goals. Chavez had promised to stand by Iran in its efforts to avoid U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program, defending the Islamic country against allegations that it wants to build an atomic bomb.
Before the vote, Venezuela and Guatemala both said they had a majority of votes in the 192-member General Assembly.
The rotating seat is decided by a secret vote and countries don’t have to make known their preference, though much of the Caribbean and South America had voiced support for Venezuela. The 53 African countries were expected to lean toward Venezuela, while Asia’s 54 nations appeared to be split.
Guatemala had the support of Colombia, apparently most of Central America, Europe and other countries. Guatemalan officials had expressed concern that U.S. campaigning on its behalf would hurt its bid, turning the contest into an America vs. Chavez battle that has sidelined Guatemala.
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 like rampant crime and acute poverty.
Chavez has warned that Washington may attempt to drag out the vote for days, weeks or even years if neither candidate garners the two-thirds majority to win the seat.
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.
Chile will abstain from Monday’s vote, presidential spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber said Sunday. He said President Michelle Bachelet decided not to support either candidate.