- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

From combined dispatches

LA PAZ, Bolivia — As the U.N. General Assembly prepared to resume voting to fill a two-year-term open Security Council seat, Bolivian leftist President Evo Morales announced that his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has agreed to drop out of the hotly contested race with Guatemala for the seat and has asked Bolivia to run in its place,

“Comrade Chavez says that to find a consensus he leaves the candidacy to Bolivia,” President Morales said at a ceremony with small business owners in the La Paz suburb of El Alto.

Mr. Chavez, an uncompromising critic of U.S. policies in Latin America and worldwide, has pitted Venezuela against U.S.-backed Guatemala in fierce competition for the seat. But neither country has been able to garner the two-thirds majority needed to win the spot after three-dozen polls at the General Assembly.

Despite trailing Guatemala in nearly all the votes, Caracas has refused to drop out.

Oil-rich Venezuela has buttressed its claim to the seat by distributing largesse to other Latin American and Caribbean nations, as well as to other parts of the world.

“We are candidates for the Security Council,” Mr. Morales, one of Mr. Chavez’s closest allies and a fellow U.S. critic, said. “Hopefully we will obtain a consensus.”

“Last night, Venezuela’s ambassador called me first. Then commander Chavez called me and told me that since he was unable to get two-thirds for the Security Council,” Caracas was giving up its candidacy for Bolivia, he said.

The United States, which has campaigned for Guatemala, fears that the leftist Venezuelan leader would use the seat to be disruptive, routinely oppose U.S. measures and openly attack the United States.

Asked about Bolivia’s candidacy, a State Department official said Washington’s position would remain the same as long as the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) has not announced a third candidate.

Javier Zabaleta, a Morales supporter who heads the chamber of deputies’ defense committee, said Bolivia’s candidacy is not a certainty, as it would take the backing of other countries.

“This is not simply a unilateral or bilateral decision that must be taken to find a possible candidate,” he said. “It has to be the result of consensus among a number of countries that can make the candidacy feasible.”

International projects financed by Mr. Chavez ahead of the contest have included an extension to an airstrip on a Caribbean island, emergency food aid to Africa and repairs to a rundown hospital in Uruguay.

The United States, for its part, has allocated more than $3 billion in aid to Latin America and the Caribbean in the past two years, though there is no evidence that recipients have been pressured to vote for Guatemala.

Guatemala consistently outpolled Venezuela through three days of voting last week but was unable to secure the needed two-thirds majority, as a solid bloc of countries remained faithful to Mr. Chavez’s bid. The last vote was 103-81 for Guatemala — little changed from the first round two days earlier — when the secret balloting was suspended Friday. The secret balloting resumes this afternoon.

Dominica has supported Venezuela’s U.N. bid despite lobbying by Guatemala, and its foreign minister, Charles Savarin, has acknowledged that Venezuela’s aid “cannot go unnoticed” as a factor in the decision.

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