The Race for Latin America’s Security Council Seat


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

The Race for Latin America's Security Council Seat

Written by Cyril Mychalejko
Wednesday, 28 June 2006

The United States has launched a diplomatic offensive to block Venezuela's bid 
for a two-year rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. 
instead is lobbying heavily for Guatemala to take over the seat being vacated by

U.S. officials claim that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a threat to 
democracy in Latin America and that his presence within Security Council circles
would be counter-productive for the world body.

"It should come as no surprise that we believe Venezuela would not contribute to
the effective operation of the Security Council, as demonstrated by its often 
disruptive and irresponsible behavior in multilateral forums," said State 
Department spokesman Eric Watnick.

In contrast, Washington believes Guatemala is a "viable candidate." State 
Department officials cite Guatemala's previous work with the U.N. and its 
contribution of peacekeepers as evidence of its qualifications.

Guatemala¹s Qualifications

U.N. High Commisioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour after an official visit to 
Guatemala last month expressed concern that democratic reforms were "progressing
slowly." Guatemala is ten years removed from the 1996 Peace Accords which ended 
a 36-year civil war that left over 200,000 people (mostly indigenous) either 
dead or disappeared.

"Nothing can exemplify this better than the delay encountered by victims of the 
armed conflict in obtaining justice and reparation," said Arbour. "Where 
impunity is the rule for past violations, it should come as no surprise that it 
also prevails for current crimes."

Arbour cited a list of problems plaguing the country, which include: ongoing 
threats and violence directed at human rights workers, the government¹s meager 
investment in social services (the lowest in the region), the continued 
disrcimination and marginalization of idigenous peoples, as well as the 
continued rise of homocides. Also, after ten years Guatemala has failed to adopt
and enforce the Peace Accord on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The U.N. is not alone in its criticism and concern about the Guatemalan 
government's failure to address discrimination, violence and impunity. Amnesty 
International issued a report in April 2006 that examines Guatemala's 
enforcement of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment and 

"The vast majority of human rights violations committed in the present remain 
unpunished with the vast majority [of those violations] lacking thorough 
investigation," Amnesty¹s report stated.

Concerned about a spike in the murder rate of Guatemalan women, the Amnesty 
report focuses on violence against women and the government¹s failure to bring 
perpetrators to justice. Sexual violence and mutilation are associated with a 
large percentage of the killings. Yet, despite the rapid rise of these gruesome 
crimes, there has been no increase in prosecutions by the state. Amnesty cites a
report that reveals that "between 2001 and 2005 only five of the 1,897 cases had
been resolved in the courts."

Amnesty attributes this failure to gender discrimination and reports that 
prosecutors and police often blame victims and falsely accuse them of being 
prostitutes or gang members. The government's inability to expeditiously 
prosecute these murders and the subsequent suffering this inflicts on victims' 
families amounts to violations of the U.N. convention.

In addition, Amnesty raised concerns about Guatemalan government policies of 
home demolition and violent eviction of campesinos (subsistence farmers) as a 
method of settling land disputes. Guatemala counted 1,052 disputed land claims 
as of December 2005. In the small Central American country less than two percent
of the population own 60 percent of the land. This disparity in land ownership 
resulted from land tenure policies carried out by successive dictatorships 
during the county's civil war and led to widespread internal displacements of 
Guatemala¹s rural poor. The International Displacement Monitoring Centre, an 
international body monitoring conflict-induced internal displacement, estimates 
that as many as one million people have been displaced in Guatemala, most of 
them indigenous.

Under current President Oscar Berger, a former businessman and wealthy 
landowner, forced evictions marked by violence, house burnings and demolitions 
have been used to settle these disputes. Not only does this amount to violations
of the Convention against Torture, it also fails to meet obligations under the 
Peace Accords which guaranteed land redistribution and resettlement for poor 
people uprooted during the war. In addition, human rights and indigenous 
activists have suffered threats, attacks and executions.

Berger's propensity for violence-as-conflict-resolution was exposed again in 
January 2005 over a disputed World Bank mining project. Indigenous protestors 
raised a blockade to prevent Canada¹s Glamis Gold from bringing in its mining 
equipment. Berger sent in the military and police who opened fire on protestors,
killing one person and injuring dozens of others.

Like the U.N.'s commissioner for human rights pointed out, since impunity rules 
for crimes in the past the current situation in Guatemala should come as no 

According to Amnesty International, "Those responsible for past human rights 
violations including policies of systematic torture, forced 'disappearances' and
genocide remain at large, unaccountable for their actions, in some cases 
enjoying considerable political influence in present day Guatemala."

One notable example is Efrain Rios Montt, the military man who became president 
in 1982 after launching a military coup. Upon winning power, Montt, with a nod 
from Washington, launched a scorched earth campaign against the Mayan population
that killed and "disappeared" thousands of indigenous. In recent years, Montt 
has served as head of Congress and ran for president in 2004 before losing to 

Rhetoric and Reality

U.S. concerns over Venezuela¹s bid has nothing to do with democracy and respect 
for international law. What¹s at stake is Washington¹s waning influence over the
region, its ability to call the shots globally and the U.N.¹s institutional 
acquiescence in maintaining a global heirarchy marked by violence, 
disrcimination and impunity‹much like in Guatemala.

Recent elections throughout the region have left many leaders in Washington 
(both corporate and political) reminiscencing for the good old days when Latin 
American heads of state could be counted on to push through neoliberal reforms 
and support U.S. foreign policy, even if it meant these same leaders had to use 
violence and oppression. Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the 
aforementioned Montt serve as good examples.

Leaders representing the new Latin America such as Venezuela¹s Chavez, Bolivia¹s
Evo Morales and to a lesser degree Argentina¹s Nestor Kirchner and Brazil¹s Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva are a threat to the current global heirarchy led by 
Washington and supported by the U.N. These countries, along with Uruguay and 
Paraguay, are expected to support Venezuela¹s bid for the open seat. The U.S is 
using diplomatic pressure to urge Chile, seen as a critical vote, to push 
Guatemala through. But if the 2005 OAS election where the U.S. backed candidate 
lost to Chile¹s José Miguel Insulza is any indicator, Washington may be in for 
another disappointment, and dose of reality.

And even though the Security Council doesn¹t rubber stamp everything coming out 
of Washington, like the war in Iraq, the war still happened (in violation of the
U.N. Charter), over 100,000 Iraqis are dead and the U.S. government has yet to 
be held accountable. Other U.N. crimes that come to mind are the sanctions that 
left over 500,000 Iraqi children dead, and more recently its support of the coup
in Haiti and the use of death squads in that country.

Venezuela¹s election to the Security Council could very well challenge this 
inhumane system and global hierarchy that smaller nations have fallen prey to. 
It is feared that the Venezuelan government¹s outspoken and harsh criticisms 
directed toward U.S. foreign policy could prove to be contagious. Chavez has 
even called out the U.N. for its institutional failures.

In September 2005 he spoke before the U.N. and demanded a "re-founding" of the 
organization. Part of the institutional changes he suggested were terminating 
the veto vote and expanding the Security Council to include newly developed and 
developing nations.

This is why Washington objects to Venezuela¹s candidacy.

Cyril Mychalejko is the assistant editor of and is 
currently based in Ecuador.

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