Protracted voting fails to end UN impasse

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Latin America was locked in diplomatic deadlock on Tuesday after a further six rounds of voting by the UN general assembly failed to produce one of ten temporary representatives for the Security Council. Neither anti-US Venezuela nor pro-US Guatemala has managed to get close to the two-thirds general assembly majority needed for victory, although Guatemala has won the majority of recent votes by a wide margin.

The voting represents a setback for Venezuela’s anti-American President Hugo Chávez, who in recent months had traveled extensively and invested heavily in a bid to win support for his own country’s bid. “It is a tremendous blow to Venezuela,” said Juan Tokatlian, a Buenos Aires-based international relations specialist. “Their votes have fallen well short of what they expected.”

In Tuesday’s sixth round of voting - the sixteenth in total - Venezuela scored 76, compared to 108 by Guatemala.

With neither side prepared to back down as yet, the stalemate looks likely to continue at least for the next few days. The Latin American Group of UN diplomats, which is chaired by Ecuador, has no plans to meet as yet. “At this moment both candidatures continue, and they have every right to do so,” said Heraldo Muñoz, the Chilean ambassador to the UN.

Enrique Berruga, the Mexican ambassador, said talk of a third, consensus candidate was “premature”. He said that the representatives of Guatemala and Venezuela first needed to talk, although he said he said he had called for a meeting of the Latin American group. Indeed, it is understood that some members of the group met early on Tuesday morning.

On Monday, Guatemala first won and then lost a majority in en rounds of voting, but was at least 12 votes short of the 128 votes it needed to win. The impasse prompted other Latin American countries on Tuesday to suggest regional talks on a way out to avoid a recurrence of divisions that afflicted thre region at the height of the Cold War.

In 1979 it took four months and 155 rounds of votes to resolve protracted deadlock between Cuba and Colombia. That contest was eventually resolved only after the intervention of Kurt Waldheim, then secretary general of the United Nations, and the nomination of Mexico as a compromise candidate.

Mr Tokatlian said that he expected Brazil, Argentina and Chile, possibly together with countries from outside the region such as Spain and Canada, to begin efforts to broke a solution. He said that Chile itself – which abstained on Monday – is unlikely to be able to stand since it was on the council as recently as 2003. However, Uruguay and Costa Rica are both potential candidates. Like Venezuela, Uruguay is a member of the South American trade pact, Mercosur, but it also has good relations with the US and a strong independent diplomatic tradition.

In a letter to colleagues, Francisco Arias Cardenas, the Venezuelan ambassador, on Tuesday called for their continued support of the country’s supporters, arguing that the secret vote was the “weapon which our people possess to confront … tricky manouevres and dirty tricks ..and preserve independence and sovereignty”.

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