Chavez Suffers International Setbacks

The Associated Press
Monday, October 23, 2006; 11:09 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez has suffered a string of international setbacks, seeing his campaign for a U.N. Security Council seat fall short and his favored leftist candidates losing elections in Peru and Mexico.

Calling President Bush "the devil" still rallies faithful Chavistas in Venezuela, where Chavez leads in the polls six weeks ahead of elections. But critics say his superheated rhetoric is turning away some potential supporters elsewhere.

"Taking these kinds of broadsides against the U.S. hasn't really worked for him politically abroad," said Daniel Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. "A lot of governments indicated they would vote for him in the U.N., and then when it came to the secret ballot, they didn't."

With Venezuela trailing the U.S.-supported Guatemala after 35 rounds of secret votes that left both shy of the two-thirds majority needed to win a Security Council seat, the contest could eventually end up going to a compromise candidate after voting resumes Wednesday.

Chavez portrays the U.N. voting as a diplomatic victory, saying Sunday that he achieved his objective of blocking Washington's candidate.

"We've taught the empire a lesson," Chavez told supporters. Even if "Venezuela isn't able to enter the Security Council, we've done damage to the empire. That was our objective."

But Ghana's U.N. ambassador, Nana Effah-Apenteng, said many diplomats feel Chavez went too far in his speech to the General Assembly last month, when he said the podium reeked of sulfur after Bush spoke.

"Even if you want to bash another head of state, this isn't proper decorum," Effah-Apenteng said. "That's the problem."

Some analysts, however, said Chavez's influence with a solid bloc in the United Nations despite counter-lobbying by Washington shows his political savvy.

"This is like a boxing match. You have a heavyweight in the form of the U.S., you have a junior weight in the form of Venezuela, and the fact that Venezuela has lasted this long speaks tremendously to the kind of influence that they were able to generate," said Miguel Tinker Salas, a Latin American studies professor at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

Chavez recently visited countries from Belarus to Vietnam collecting pledges of support, and his oil-funded foreign aid has helped cement alliances in what he calls a struggle against U.S. hegemony.

"I think Chavez has achieved a lot to put Venezuela in a position of significant global leadership," said Dan Hellinger, a political scientist at Webster University in St. Louis. "It's clearly been set back in the last month or so, but what I'm curious to see is how he reacts now."

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