Caribbean Nation May Break Logjam Over Security Council Seat

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:23pm EDT

( - A "grand gesture" on the part of the U.S. could break an impasse at the United Nations where member states have failed to agree on a candidate to fill the remaining seat on the Security Council, according to policy analysts with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA).

If the U.S. were to come out in support of St. Lucia as a compromise candidate for the Latin American and Caribbean seat currently contested by Venezuela and Guatemala, Washington would be better positioned to improve strained relations with countries in that region, said COHA director Larry Birns.

After 35 rounds of voting by secret ballot, neither Venezuela nor Guatemala has been able to secure the two-thirds majority needed to acquire the non-permanent member Security Council position. The voting is scheduled to resume on Wednesday.

Loathe to have Venezuela in the Security Council at a time it is focusing on such critical issues as the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, the U.S. is backing Guatemala and encouraging others to do the same.

Other policy experts who spoke with Cybercast News Service did not disagree with Burns' assessment on the need for constructive engagement between the U.S. and its neighbors to the south.

Stephen Johnson, senior policy analyst for Latin America at The Heritage Foundation, said there are ways the U.S. can show countries in the hemisphere that "we are interested in their well-being," such as approving free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia.

The U.S. could also improve cooperation in the law enforcement field, Johnson said, arguing in favor of a "harmonization" between U.S. and Latin American laws that would facilitate this.

But where COHA views Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as an advocate of democracy, other analysts see him as a dangerous and destabilizing figure bent on undermining U.S. interests.

"Chavez supposedly poses a mortal threat to Bush because he wants to have a socialist economy and a democratic political system," Birns said. "Big deal - that's what John Locke was all about when he talked about the social contract."

Nile Gardiner, an international policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, does not see the left-wing Venezuelan leader as an amiable democrat, however.

"He's a growing strategic threat to U.S. interests," Gardiner said. "He's forming military partnerships with Iran, Russia and China. Venezuela has every opportunity under Chavez to emerge as a dangerous rogue state by aligning itself with state sponsors of terrorism with nuclear ambitions."
Gardiner told Cybercast New Service the credibility of the U.N. and the utility of the Security Council would be greatly eroded if Venezuela won the seat.

"Venezuela's election to the Security Council would be a huge propaganda coup for the anti-American movement, not only in Latin America, but across the globe," he said. "It would also significantly strengthen the position of Iran and in turn increase opposition to the sanctions regime imposed by the Security Council."

Birns said it appeared right now that neither of the current candidates would prevail.

In the latest round, Guatemala obtained 103 votes to its rival's 81. There were seven abstentions. Guatemala has maintained a lead in every round so far with the exception of the sixth round last Monday, which ended in a tie.

Venezuela's bid for the open seat was damaged when Chavez delivered a speech before the General Assembly in September, calling President Bush "the devil."

Venezuela's envoy has already said that his country will not withdraw from the ballot.

There is a precedent at the U.N. for third candidates to emerge when member states have failed to fill a seat. COHA thinks St. Lucia fits the bill this time.

It describes the tiny Caribbean island nation (pop. less than 170,000) as a "model democracy" with a highly educated, English-speaking population, a "transparent banking system" and a strong law enforcement record.

It is among the 10 Caribbean nations that have never held a seat on the Security Council.

Birns said an expression of support for St. Lucia from U.S. officials would recognize the "innate contributions" of the Caribbean countries.

St. Lucia also had a much better record on human rights than Guatemala, he said.

St. Lucia opposed U.S. intervention in Iraq. COHA argues, however, that the island nation is not reflexively anti-American.

St. Lucia supported "Washington's legitimate aspirations" such as joint efforts to combat illegal drug trafficking, the group said in a memorandum.

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