Deadlock after marathon fight for UN panel seat

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They handed out chocolates and bracelets, they issued hortatory leaflets and gave impassioned speeches, and even, according to some diplomats, deployed a number of notably attractive women to woo possible swing voters.

But after three days and 35 rounds of voting, Venezuela and Guatemala were still deadlocked in their marathon to win a two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council, and the General Assembly was bracing itself for its longest election since 1979.

As of late Thursday, when proceedings were suspended until next week, Guatemala had 103 votes to Venezuela’s 81: a clear lead, but not the two-thirds it needed to secure victory.

Although the ballot was secret, the battle lines were increasingly clear. The US, Europe and central America backed Guatemala, shuddering at the prospect of giving Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader, a Security Council podium.

On the other side was much of South America, the Caribbean and China, which could not support Guatamela because of its relations with Taiwan. Guatemala’s border dispute with Belize was also an issue.

In the middle lay the large African and Asian blocs, as well as the Middle East, all seen as potential swing voters, but who – despite some dramatic shifts on the first day, in which Venezuela drew level for one round – appeared to have largely entrenched their positions.

Neither side appeared willing to budge. Guatemala was not ready to throw away a consistent lead while Venezuela, with elections due in December, saw no reason to abandon a high-profile podium for its fight against US influence.

Tentative discussions in the Latin American bloc failed to agree on fielding a third, consensus, candidate.

Rumours of favours and threats became common currency, although it was hard to stand up evidence of untoward behaviour – save some strikingly concerted lobbying and high-level phone-calls. John Bolton, the US ambassador remained in the General Assembly hall for most of the proceedings.

One diplomat complained that Venezuela at one point brought in a photographer who snapped every encounter between Mr Bolton and his colleagues; Francisco Arias Cardenas, its UN ambassador, held aloft a picture from Spain’s El Pais, showing the US diplomat in discussion with Gert Rosenthal from Guatemala.

By Thursday, the gossip turned to the attractiveness of Venezuela’s female contingent, although others said Guatemala was holding its own in that arena, and a Venezuelan dismissed such accusations as undignified.

“Neither delegation discriminates against attractive women,” said one delegate dryly, adding: “it doesn’t seem to be having much effect.”

The charm offensive belied a more militaristic streak in Venezuela’s campaign. Mr Chávez and Mr Arias, both former army officers who participated in a failed military coup in 1992, have led Venezuela’s campaign for a seat on the Security Council like generals at war, with rhetoric to match.

At the start of the week, Mr Arias told the president he had “attached his bayonet” and that they were “ready for man-to-man combat”. Venezuela had assumed an “infantryman’s kneeling position”, Mr Chávez said.

But cracks in Mr Chávez’s campaign were on Friday becoming evident. Gen Alberto Muller, a “strategic adviser” to the president, said the process would inevitably lead to the selection of an “outsider” and that Venezuela should already be looking for such a candidate in South America.

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