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Venezuela, Guatemala Compete for UN Security Council Seat

Much of the activity at the United Nations this week has been focused on North Korea. But a vote by member nations on Monday to fill Latin America's seat on the Security Council is capturing a lot of attention. Venezuela has challenged Guatemala, the candidate backed by the United States, at a time of tense relations between the US and Venezuela.

Normally, votes to fill the rotating, two-year-seats on the UN Security Council do not generate a tremendous amount of excitement. The rotating members do not have veto power. But Monday's vote on who will fill Latin America's seat is shaping up to be quite a showdown.

Michael Shifter is vice president of policy at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy forum.

"It's captured a lot of attention because it's come down to a real battle between Venezuela and the United States," he said. "The two countries that are contending for Latin America's seat are Venezuela and Guatemala, but Guatemala is strongly backed by the United States. And it's turned into a contest between two countries that are, at least in political terms, very, very important adversaries to one another."

Venezuela has been pushing hard for a seat on the Security Council, arguing that its independent voice is needed to oppose the United States. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made no secret of his ambitions to be the leader of a global anti-US movement, and he has been traveling and spending petro-dollars to forge alliances.

Eduardo Gamarra is Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University.

"It's been an interesting campaign, where Chavez has gone full-out trying to construct a coalition, not only in this hemisphere, but also in Africa and the Middle East," he noted. "The relationship with Iran, for example, that he has cultivated, has everything to do with this."

For its part, Guatemala says it deserves a seat on the council, because it has troops participating in international humanitarian missions and it has never had a seat on the Council before. The United States fears Venezuela would be a disruptive voice on the Security Council, at a time when it is likely to face major challenges with North Korea and Iran.

Venezuela says it has the support of China, Russia, most Arab nations, Argentina, Brazil and the members of the Caribbean community. Guatemala is also optimistic, saying it has the support of the United States, the European Union and most likely Mexico and Peru.

Winning a seat requires a two-thirds majority of the 192 members. Michael Shifter says it is difficult to predict who will be the winner, and the vote may not be decided on Monday.

"My best guess at this point is that neither Guatemala nor Venezuela will get the votes that are required to get the seats," he added. "The Latin Americans may turn to another government that would be easier to get a consensus."

Some media reports in Latin America are suggesting that the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Colombia, Uruguay or Panama may step forward as an alternative candidate.