Ricardo Israel Z. explains why the United States supports the nomination of Guatemala over Venezuela to one of the non-permanent seats on the Security Council of the United Nations. In Israel Z.‘s opinion, Washington has finally learned the lesson of Iraq, and will try to resolve its future polemic issues (with Iran and North Korea) within the Security Council. Chavez, meanwhile, is on a mission to spread his anti-imperialist struggle. Were Caracas to take a seat in the Council, it would be able to vote against the United States on issues considered by the White House to be of top priority to national security.
Ricardo Israel Z. is a lawyer and a political scientist. He has a PhD and a master’s in Political Science from the University of Essex and is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Chile. He is the Director of the International Center for Quality in Democracy and of the School of Juridical and Social Sciences at the Autónoma University of Chile. Israel Z. also presides over the Committee on Armed Forces and Society, which is a part of the World Association of Political Science.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE SECURITY COUNCIL OF THE UNITED NATIONS? Apart from being the most powerful organ of the United Nations it is also the most influential instrument of international law in the world. And although the Council is comprised of 15 members, the real power is held by those countries that have the right to veto: the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China. The importance of the other ten members is only secondary.
Why, then, are the United States and Venezuela joined in a struggle of such magnitude that Hugo Chavez made one of the least diplomatic statements in the history of the organization, and the United States retained the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs at the airport?
COMPETITION WITH GUATEMALA
From Washington’s perspective, the unilateral cowboy approach to diplomacy has gotten bogged down in the mess of Iraq. The United States seems to have learned their lesson, and will abandon unilateralism for future contentions. Washing will turn to the Security Council to handle the issue of nuclear armament in North Korea and Iran. Chavez, a known ally of both North Korea and Iran, would undoubtedly use his position in the Security Council to vote against the United States on issues that are central to US national security. And even though Guatemala is the challenging country, from Chavez’ point of view, the real contender is the United States. Guatemala has collaborated with UN missions, but has never once served on the Security Council.
THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST STRUGGLE
Chavez’s objective is not so much to get onto the Security Council –Venezuela has already held the position four times– as it is to prove to the world, through nomination, that he and his Bolivarian revolution are the leaders of a worldwide struggle against imperialism. That is what has made him famous throughout the world: his photo appearing in public protests throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
From a distance, the figure of Chavez is reminiscent of Fidel Castro in his earlier years, or of Colonel Kadaffy in the seventies; who, with his vast oil reserves, wanted not only to buy power, but to carve out a place for himself in history.
THE SOLUTION OF THE THIRD COUNTRY
The Latin American block is at a stalemate, divided down the middle between the two contenders. The issue will therefore go to the General Assembly of the UN on October 16th. The winner will require the approval of more than two thirds the votes.
The situation is very similar to what happened with Cuba in its rivalry with Colombia for a seat on the Security Council in 1968. Cuba won dozens of rounds of voting, but never gained the two thirds of the votes necessary to clinch the seat. And as the General Assembly began to grow weary, a third country emerged that had good relations with both Cuba and Colombia. That country in 1968 was Mexico.
COSTA RICA, URUGUAY, AND THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Mexico, however, could never win now. Venezuela and Mexico have very distant relations, aggravated even more by the victory of Felipe Calderon.
Possible third parties to emerge could be Costa Rica, Uruguay, and the Dominican Republic. Yet, none of them can be confirmed. They would only step forward in a scenario in which Venezuela wins, but is unable to gain two thirds of the votes.
It is habitual, in the United Nations, for countries to remain firm in their resolve and vote as they had declared that they would for the first few rounds of voting. Afterwards, however, many feel free to change their opinions through a secret vote.
THE DIVISION IN LATIN AMERICA
Despite the fact that holding a secondary seat in the Security Council is of minimal importance, the election has divided the world in half. Chavez has traveled widely, visiting countries around the globe, like Belarus, that are still undecided.
It is difficult to find, anywhere in the world, two campaigns so different: the stridency of Chavez against the low profile of Guatemala. Guatemala has hardly said a word about its candidacy, letting the United States speak for it.
Yet, Venezuela has been so confrontational over the issue that the mere effect of its nomination has all of Latin America divided.
Under these conditions, the question remains: would Venezuela be a worthy representative for the entire continent?