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Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan president, was on Monday night fighting off a personal political defeat at the hands of US-backed Guatemala in his long-held goal to win a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
By a tenth-round vote, Venezuela was losing by 77 votes to 110 votes in the General Assembly after pulling even with Guatemala in earlier rounds. Voting will resume on Tuesday.
The stalemate, with neither country able to capture the necessary two-thirds in voting sessions that at times drew gasps of excitement from UN ambassadors, has set the stage for a battle of wills that could drag on for days.
Monday’s nail-biting contest evoked memories of the 1979 contest between Cuba and Colombia which went on for more than two months and 154 rounds of voting before Mexico was picked as a consensus candidate.
Neither country said it would withdraw. “We are going to continue and we are going to call on all countries of dignity, strength and autonomy,” said Francisco Arias, Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN.
Guatemala’s sustained lead in the vote, however, threatens the Caracas government with a serious setback. Mr Chávez has travelled the world in recent months on a personal lobbying mission to persuade dozens of foreign governments to back his bid to win one of the two council seats open to a Latin American nation.
The Venezuelan leader was on Monday afternoon believed to be frantically calling foreign leaders from the Presidential Palace in Caracas. His bid appears to have suffered from a controversial speech at the General Assembly in which he called US President George W. Bush the devil
The tightly fought UN vote comes only six weeks ahead of elections in Venezuela, in which Mr Chávez’s chances of winning re-election are narrowing, according to recent opinion polls.
Candidates backed by Venezuela in presidential elections in Peru and Mexico this year lost, while Rafael Correa, the pro-Chávez candidate in Ecuador’s elections held on Sunday, was forced into a second round run-off.
Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan envoy to the UN, said the stalemate over the council seat was unfortunate, given that Venezuela was elected unanimously on four previous occasions. “It is very sad for Venezuela to lose to a small country after spending large amounts of money,” he said.
John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, said: “This really does remind me of Florida in 2000. Votes go up, votes go down...this is just the first day. I am prepared for the long haul.” He noted the outcome of the tenth ballot was “essentially the same” as that of the first, and added that Venezuela “ended the day with a string of defeats”.