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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Venezuela at the UN Security Council? Not so fast.

At The Economist: The world according to Chavez: Venezuela's bid for a UN Security Council seat has divided Latin America (emphasis added)
His diplomacy has split Latin America. Mexico, Central America (except Belize) and Colombia are supporting the rival candidacy of Guatemala, announced before Venezuela's and backed by the United States. Venezuela claims the support of the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), Bolivia and much of the Caribbean. Peru and Ecuador will probably support Guatemala. Chile has been wavering: Michelle Bachelet, the president, leans towards Venezuela, but much of her centre-left coalition does not. Recent criticism of its stance by Venezuela's ambassador will probably force Ms Bachelet to abstain.

Farther afield, Guatemala has the support of most of Europe's democracies. Mr Chávez claims the backing of the Arab league, much of the African Union, and China and Russia. Some of this support is based on shared anti-Americanism - thus the UN speech. But some of it appears to be the fruit of petro-diplomacy.

The cost of this to Venezuela is impossible to calculate. Much of the government's spending is off-budget and at Mr Chavez's discretion (which violates the constitution he himself introduced). A recent study by CIECA, an opposition-leaning research centre, puts at $50 billion the total foreign spending announced by the government in the past 18 months (though this seems to involve some double counting). It includes a $10 billion anti-poverty fund, which officials say has already financed an electrification plan for Havana, a hospital in Uruguay, and subsidised heating oil for poor districts in the United States.

Argentina has benefited from Venezuela's purchase of $3.1 billion of its bonds. Other outlays come more clearly under the heading of outright aid. Jamaica was offered a $300m motorway. Bolivia has been showered with gifts, including asphalt for its highways, student grants and the indefinite loan of two large helicopters. Over 300,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan oil products is sold at a discount under a variety of concessionary deals.

Many of the headline sums lack a timetable. If true, they are out of all proportion to the financial capacity of a country where at least 35% of the population still lives in poverty, despite the government's oil windfall. Many of the promises look wildly unrealistic. Mr Chavez has talked of building or upgrading oil refineries in Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Syria, Uruguay and Vietnam, not to mention Venezuela itself. But PDVSA, the state oil company, suffers from a shortage of both skilled staff and cash.
And, at times, a shortage of of oil. According to the Financial Times, under Chavez, PDVSA's oil output has declined by about 60 per cent.

The Economist continues,
Despite the outlay, Mr Chavez may still not achieve his goal. To be elected, a country requires 128 votes - two-thirds of the General Assembly. Neither Venezuela nor Guatemala is likely to achieve that. Whichever comes second would normally face pressure to step aside. But this time, neither is likely to do so. The onus will then be on the bigger countries in Latin America to come up with a compromise candidate - diplomats mention Uruguay, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.
Also at The Economist:

Who leads Latin America?
If you ask me, it's all up to Lula. The Brazilian election is today, and he's expected to win.

Update Don't miss Publius Pundit's post on the Brazilian elections. Aleksander Boyd's on the Venezuelan campaign trail with Manuel Rosales, and he was mugged by Chavista thugs (the Venezuelan elections are on December 3).

Update 2 Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Toasted Bread
This same week we have also known that Chavez has employed Arturo Cubillas, ex-ETA terrorist, allegedly accused of 3 murders in Spain, and his wife. He has been named Director assigned to the Office of Administration and Services of the Agricultural and Lands of Venezuela Minister. His wife has been named General Director of the Venezuelan Presidency, as Spanish Embassy in Venezuela has confirmed. Links above are in Spanish, but are very interesting to know who this man was. In brief, he was one of the ETA-Terrorists looked for by Spanish police in the 80's -where ETA's bloody campaign was more active-, deported from Venezuela to Algeria, where talks between Socialist Government and ETA failed.
(h/t Lerwyn/Gateway Pundit)

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