Venezuela aims to win U.N. Security Council seat

| Sept. 23, 2014 | Caracas, Venezuela

Text published by USA Today
Audio featured on Radio France Internationale

President Nicolás Maduro makes his debut before the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, as his socialist nation and frequent U.S. critic makes a strong bid for a seat on the Security Council.

Venezuela has received backing from Latin American and Caribbean nations for a seat in the 2015-16 session. As the sole candidate for the seat reserved for that bloc of nations, it is confident of winning the required two-thirds vote that the U.N.'s 193 members will cast in a secret ballot in October.

"To New York I will take the voice of Venezuela," Maduro said on Monday, "the voice of (Hugo) Chávez!"

Chávez, Venezuela's late charismatic president, often spouted anti-American rhetoric, and derided President George W. Bush in 2006, when Chávez addressed the U.N. Speaking a day after the U.S. president's U.N. address, he called Bush the "devil" and said the lectern still smelled of sulfur.

Back then, the U.S. – one of five permanent members of the Security Council – campaigned to keep Venezuela from joining the 15-member council for a two-year term. This time, the U.S. seems unlikely to block the only candidate put forward by the Latin American/ Caribbean group, even though the State Department continues to criticize Venezuela's record on human rights and democratic principles.

Among the U.S. complaints are press censorship, the jailing of Maduro's main political opponent and support for U.S. adversaries, from Iran to Cuba.

Should Venezuela win the Security Council seat, it is likely to stand up for those U.S. enemies. During his 14-year tenure, Chávez was a leading U.S. antagonist and Maduro has maintained that policy. In addition, Chávez's daughter, María Gabriela Chávez, is Venezuela's deputy ambassador to the U.N.

"Yankees go home! Get out of Venezuela!" Maduro said last year, as he kicked out three U.S. Embassy staffers he accused of sabotaging the country's economy. The two nations have not had ambassadorial links since 2008.

Gaining a seat on the Security Council, which weighs responses to international crises, would be a diplomatic coup for Maduro.

The New York Times and Washington Post recently published editorials that argued against Venezuela being allowed a seat. Maduro, a former bus driver, accused the newspapers of "racist" attacks on him, countering, "this bus driver is headed for the U.S."

Milos Alcalay, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the U.N. who resigned in 2004 to protest his government's violation of democracy and human rights, said he did not think Venezuela should be on the U.N. council.

"The designation of officials who are unprepared for the gravity of the Security Council could create a sort of 'show diplomacy,'" Alcalay told USA TODAY. "That would not be constructive for the U.N."

The last time Venezuela had a seat on the Security Council was 1992-93. Diego Arria, the country's ambassador to the U.N at the time, is now a fierce critic of the government and has urged regional governments to oppose Venezuela's bid for a council seat.

"Venezuela is getting by there thanks to the complicity and support of many of the so-called democracies of Latin America," Arria told USA TODAY. "They are endorsing a military regime to represent them."

Maduro planned to address the General Assembly last year but changed his plans at the last minute, citing "life-threatening provocations" against him. In his place, then Foreign Minister Elías Jaua spoke, providing his own poke at the U.S. "Sadly," he said, "it still smells of sulfur."