Is Nicolás Maduro Latin America’s New Man at the United Nations?
Representatives of Latin America and the Caribbean have chosen the troubled government of Venezuela to represent them in the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member whose term begins next January. When the U.N. General Assembly elects new UNSC members in mid-October, Latin America’s nominee to debate matters of "peace and security" will be ...
Representatives of Latin America and the Caribbean have chosen the troubled government of Venezuela to represent them in the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member whose term begins next January. When the U.N. General Assembly elects new UNSC members in mid-October, Latin America’s nominee to debate matters of "peace and security" will be a country that is among the least peaceful and most insecure in the Americas. Although the region’s image may suffer as a result, at least President Nicolás Maduro’s regime will be conspicuous as its economic mismanagement collapses Venezuela’s oil-rich economy and as its repression intensifies in a desperate bid to hold to power.
The Security Council has five permanent members (France, China, Russia, Britain, and the United States) and 10 non-permanent members, elected to represent one of five regional groups of countries. Venezuela seeks to be one of two members representing the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC).
Maduro’s mentor, the late Hugo Chávez, hoped for the opportunity to strut on the world stage when he sought a UNSC seat eight years ago. He launched his bid by hurling personal insults aimed at the United States, alluding to President George W. Bush as diabolical. Since taking power in 1998, Chavez had systematically courted governments with his generous "petro-diplomacy" and pressed his "anti-imperialist" vision vigorously. Even the serious South American governments that did not share his worldview saw little upside to confronting him.
However, when Venezuela sought the GRULAC seat on the Security Council in 2006, former President George W. Bush rallied like-minded governments to challenge Chávez’s ambitions. The United States supported the candidacy of Guatemala as an alternative to Venezuela. After 47 rounds of voting, neither country garnered the two-thirds of the 192-member General Assembly required to secure the seat. After a three-week impasse, both withdrew in favor of Panama. According to at least one press report, the GRULAC countries agreed privately years ago to endorse Venezuela as their consensus candidate.
As I argued at the American Enterprise Institute in 2006, "Each state [in the region] must justify to its own people that it has entrusted that extraordinary power [of UNSC membership] to governments that share its essential values and interests. It is particularly important that the U.N.’s democratic governments choose the best among them to advance those values in the Security Council’s debates and decisions."
Arguably, Venezuela is much more unstable and repressive than it was in 2006. This year opened with months of violent repression of student protests on the streets of every major city in Venezuela, with dozens killed and hundreds detained by the Maduro regime. However, a spokesman of the U.S. mission to the U.N. has stated publicly that the Obama administration will not stand in the way of Venezuela’s candidacy.
There’s little doubt that the United States does not have the diplomatic capital to mount a campaign at the U.N. aimed at disqualifying Venezuela, notwithstanding Maduro’s sorry human rights record. In the Bush years, the U.S. foreign policy team of which I was a part helped save Colombia, doubled aid to the region, and offered mutually beneficial trade to Central American and Andean countries. Today, the Obama administration has little constructive agenda in the Americas to speak of. As a result, the bankrupt regimes of Cuba and Venezuela have far more influence over regional diplomacy.
No doubt, Venezuela will represent a subset of regional governments that share an anti-U.S. obsession as the organizing principle of their foreign policy. However, it can scarcely represent the regional consensus behind the defense of human rights, representative democracy, and the rule of law. Instead, the Chávez and Maduro governments have used Venezuela’s vote in multilateral organizations to defend Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, and Muammar al-Qaddafi, among others, and to frustrate international efforts to fight drug trafficking and terrorism.
The diplomats of Latin America and the Caribbean are making a choice, and the Obama administration has chosen to leave them to it. As 16 years of staggering corruption and incompetence bears bitter fruit with the meltdown of Venezuela’s economy in the coming months, regional economic leaders should pray that the world’s capital markets and entrepreneurs do not draw unkind conclusions about their countries from the decrepit regime they have chosen to represent them on weighty matters of war and peace.