Chavez calls in favours for UN vote

As the UN prepares to vote on Venezuela’s bid for a two-year seat on the Security Council, Hugo Chavez, the country’s president, is hoping to be backed by countries in the Americas and beyond which have received Caracas’s help.

Hugo Chavez has cast himself as a champion of the poor
Hugo Chavez has cast himself as a champion of the poor

Venezuela has given an estimated $1.1 billion in aid, funded by oil revenues, since 2005. The 192-member UN general assembly will vote for either Venezuela or its rival Guatemala to the fill the South American slot in the council on Monday.

Although Venezuela has not provided a total figure for its donations, a review of public pledges by its government suggests the country has offered at least $1.1bn since the beginning of 2005 in loans, donations and financial aid to regional countries.

In Uruguay, a public hospital, Hospital de Clinicas, received US $20 million from Venezuela – half in donations and the other half to be paid off in reciprocal training and other services. Caracas has also given $260m to repave a Jamaican highway and $17m towards upgrading airports on the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Dominica.

Chavez also gave $5m for an Uruguayan tire plant, glass business and leather factory as part of a $400m aid donated since March 2005, when Uruguay‘s leftist President Tabare Vazquez took office.

Last year it also gave US $3m in emergency food aid to Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.

It also pledged to sell cheap oil for London‘s trademark red buses in return for the leftist-run city’s expertise in transport, housing and other areas.

It is expanding its programme in the United States to provide discounted heating oil to the poor.

US aid compared

According to the US state department, the US gave $3.3bn in financial and development aid to Latin America and the Caribbean for all of 2005 and 2006, including military and anti-narcotics programs.

Other estimates, which include aid not tallied by the State Department, put that figure closer to $4bn, compared to the Venezuelan’s $1.1bn.

US aid to Jamaica for 2005-2006 is listed as $42m; the Chavez-financed highway job is six times costlier.

In the same period Venezuela gave $400m to Uruguay. The US gave US $49,000 through the state department plus an estimated $800,000 in military education and counter-drug assistance.

No US money was specifically set aside for Dominica. Venezuela is extending the runway at the country’s Melville Hall Airport to boost tourism. Under Petrocaribe, a deal bringing Venezuelan oil to needy Caribbean countries, the island has also received asphalt, fuel storage tanks, university scholarships and $12m for housing.

Chavez has forged alliances with other South American leftists

Chavez has forged alliances with other South American leftists

In the case of Bolivia, the state department estimates it gave about $117m in aid for 2006. Venezuela gave around US $140m in donations and loans for scholarships and other programs.

Venezuela also bought or pledged to buy more than$3.6bn in bonds from Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia to help them cover deficits.

Most of that – $3.5bn billion – went to Argentina, helping a leftist ally pay off its World Bank and International Monetary Fund debts. Venezuela then recycles the bonds though its own banks and ends up with a profit that between early last year and July 2006 totaled US$200 million.

The US is the world’s largest overall aid donor, though less generous per capita than Japan and European countries, given the size of its economy.

Venezuela however has an economy one-ninetieth the size of America‘s.

Political support

As a result of Venezuela’s lavish use of its oil revenues, the country can count on substantial support in Monday’s UN vote.

Both Venezuela and Guatemala say they have a majority in the 192-member General Assembly ahead of Monday’s poll, but either would need two-thirds to win.

Although the ballot is secret, much of the Caribbean and South America have voiced support for Venezuela.

Guatemala however claims the support of Colombia, most of Central America, Europe and other countries.

If after repeated ballots neither side is able to muster that many votes, the 33-nation Latin American group might decide to put up another candidate.

Likely voting patterns

Dominica has supported Venezuela’s UN bid despite lobbying by Guatemala, and its foreign minister, Charles Savarin, has acknowledged that Venezuela’s aid “cannot go unnoticed” as a factor in his decision-making.

The 53 countries in the African group are expected to tilt toward Venezuela, while Asia‘s 54 nations are said to be split.

Chavez has based many of his policies on opposition to the US

Chavez has based many of his policies on opposition to the US

Chavez’s aid pledges, meanwhile, have come under attack ahead of Venezuela‘s December 3 presidential vote by opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, who says poor Venezuelans need the money.

Chavez points to government-funded improvements at Venezuela’s universities,medical clinics, subsidized food markets and train lines, and insists his foreign aid is aimed at countering the effects of US-inspired capitalism.

Chavez says he’s helping to build a “multipolar” world to counter US dominance, lining up allies against what he calls a perpetual threat from Washington.

Ten of the Security Council’s 15 seats are filled by the regional groups for two-year stretches. The other five are occupied by its veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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