HAVANA – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to the United Nations in New York on Wednesday and showed precisely why the Bush administration is working hard to make sure his country doesn’t win a seat on the Security Council next month.

Chavez, fresh from meeting with some of the U.S.’s other ardent adversaries last week in Cuba, denounced President Bush as “the devil” and a “world dictator” when it was his turn to address the U.N. assembly, a day after Bush made a speech from the same lectern.

“Yesterday, the devil came here,” Chavez said, drawing giggles from the audience as he crossed himself, looked toward the heavens and said the podium “still smells of sulfur today.”

“The president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here talking as if he owned the world,” Chavez said.

U.S. officials are campaigning hard to deny Chavez that kind of stage and exposure in a battle shaping up over the Security Council seat, which once again pits the world’s only superpower against the firebrand Venezuelan leader who is flush with oil money and pushing his anti-America agenda.

Both sides have been working hard to line up votes for the secret tally in the General Assembly on Oct. 16, with the U.S. pushing Guatemala as an alternative.

Countries ranging from China to Russia to Iran have declared their support for Venezuela, and Chavez said Wednesday that his country also has the backing of many other nations, including Argentina, Brazil and members of the Arab League.

“We will win,” Chavez said last week in Havana during the Non-Aligned Summit. “Venezuela is going to the United Nations, to the Security Council, even though the gringos and the imperialists don’t want it.”

Diplomats and analysts say the scales have tipped in Chavez’s favor as the vote nears, due to Guatemala’s poor human rights record and Venezuela’s financial assistance to many nations. One U.N. diplomat said Guatemala’s bid also has been damaged by U.S. support because Bush is widely unpopular in many developing nations.

“Our sense is that Venezuela enjoys strong support in the General Assembly, especially since the U.S. said they don’t want Venezuela at all costs,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified. “There is a strong anti-U.S. feeling.”

Gert Rosenthal, Guatemala’s foreign minister, said last week that he remains optimistic about his country’s chances, rejecting the notion that Guatemala is merely acting at the behest of the U.S. He said Guatemala is concentrating on securing the support of about 30 undecided nations.

“We have an independent foreign policy,” said Rosenthal, who was lobbying delegates at the Havana summit. “We are not the candidate of anyone except ourselves.”

Should Venezuela win the seat, analysts are uncertain what Venezuela’s two-year term on the U.N. Security Council would mean for world affairs or U.S. foreign policy beyond providing Chavez with a new platform for bashing the U.S.

Already, Chavez has announced his support for Iran in its nuclear standoff with the West and would almost certainly vote against sanctions on Tehran. But some analysts said U.S. concerns are overblown given that Venezuela would not have a veto and that sanctions and other Security Council actions require the support of nine of its 15 members.

Edward Luck, a U.N. expert at Columbia University, predicted that Venezuela would likely temper its rhetoric and actions on the Security Council or it would quickly become isolated.

“Quite often, when countries have very difficult bilateral relations with the U.S., they all of a sudden become tame and quiet on the Security Council, not as a favor to the U.S. but because of the political culture on the council, which is to find consensus and common ground,” Luck said. “The Security Council is not a place for grandstanding.”

While Rosenthal said that Guatemala would act “less confrontational” than Venezuela, Chavez said Wednesday that his country would represent “the voice of all the peoples of the world.”

The fight over the council seat is only the latest in a series of battles between the U.S. and Venezuela that intensified after the Bush administration appeared to support a brief but failed coup against Chavez in 2002. Since then, Chavez has repeatedly denounced the U.S. as an imperialist power and warmonger while threatening to cut off Venezuelan oil supplies to America if it ever took military action against his country.

During his speech Wednesday, Chavez accused Washington of trying to preserve “the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Chavez’s remarks were “not becoming for a head of state.” Speaking to reporters in New York, she said she was “not going to dignify a comment by the Venezuelan president to the president of the United States.”

Meanwhile, Chavez has befriended some of America’s most intractable enemies, including Cuba, Syria and Iran. Earlier this week, Chavez hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Venezuela, where the two leaders signed a series of economic agreements while vowing to join forces to counter what they described as U.S. hegemony.

Ahmadinejad called Chavez “my brother” and praised him as “the champion, the leader of the struggle against imperialism.”

According to U.N. rules, 10 of the 15 Security Council seats are rotated every two years. The seats are allocated to different regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America. Often, a consensus is reached among nations in a specific region around a single candidate and the General Assembly vote becomes a mere formality.

In this case, the result may not be known until the General Assembly ballots are counted. A two-thirds majority of the 192 members is needed and a compromise candidate could emerge if neither Guatemala nor Venezuela reaches that threshold.

The battle between Guatemala and Venezuela is especially fierce in Latin America and the Caribbean, where many countries receive oil from Venezuela on preferential terms yet also rely on the U.S. for trade and economic assistance. Most nations in CARICOM, a collection of 15 Caribbean states, are likely to support Venezuela because Guatemala has a long-standing territorial dispute with one of its members, Belize.

“We are caught in a jam,” Nils Castro, a Panamanian official, said last week in Havana.

Castro explained that Panama is inclined to vote for Guatemala because it is a fellow Central American nation. Yet Panama also has close ties to Venezuela, which is not only its main oil supplier but is negotiating to build an oil pipeline from Venezuela to Panama and construct a huge oil refinery there.

“It’s really tough to vote against them, isn’t it?” Castro asked.

(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at http://www.chicagotribune.com/

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


NEWSCOM PHOTOS can be viewed at http://www.newscom.com/nc/visuals.html (Username: fpnews and Password: viewnc05 allow editors to view photos.) To purchase photos or to get your own NewsCom username and password, U.S. and Canadian newspapers, please call Tribune Media (800) 637-4082 or (312) 222-2448 or email to tmssalestribune.com. Others contact NewsCom at (202) 383-6070 or email supportnewscom.com. Use search terms: “chavez”

AP-NY-09-20-06 1955EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.