By EZEQUIEL MINAYA I Oct. 16, 2014 5:16 p.m. ET
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, second from right; Vice President Jorge Arreaza, right; and president of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, second from left, celebrate at a meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, after Venezuela was elected as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. AFP/Getty Images
CARACAS—The United Nations on Thursday voted Venezuela on to its Security Council, granting the South American country a long-coveted trophy of international standing and placing a persistent thorn in the side of the U.S. on the U.N.’s most influential committee.
“This is a moment of great pride for all of Venezuela,” said President Nicolás Maduro from the presidential palace in Caracas. “The world has given us support. We should feel happiness in our hearts that we are a country that is admired and loved.”
Not everybody was celebrating the victory. Though the Obama administration resisted calls from Venezuela’s critics to mount a campaign to derail its entry into the Security Council, U.S. officials on Thursday criticized Venezuela’s record at the U.N.
“Unfortunately, Venezuela’s conduct at the U.N. has run counter to the spirit of the U.N. Charter and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, in a statement. “The U.S. will continue to call upon the government of Venezuela to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of its people,” she said.
At the first round of voting, Venezuela was joined by New Zealand, Malaysia and Angola as the newest nonpermanent additions to the 15-member Security Council, which helps steer peacekeeping missions and sanctions. Two more restricted rounds of voting elected Spain as the fifth rotating member.
Mr. Maduro was in need of good news. Antigovernment demonstrations have roiled the oil-rich country since his contested election last year. His approval rating has plunged to record lows as the cash-strapped country faces the toxic combination of a stalled economy and the region’s highest inflation.
“I think it’s a political win for Maduro. I think it’s largely symbolic,” said Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. “But I think it will be hard for the country to be influential on the Security Council while it is imploding back at home. There will be some theater from them but I think their impact will be minimal.”
Venezuela’s victory on Thursday was all but assured. In July, 33 countries in the hemisphere unanimously nominated Venezuela for the two-year term, which starts in January, one of 10 rotating slots on the Security Council.
On Thursday, Venezuela received 181 votes from the 193-member assembly. The U.S., China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom make up the Security Council’s permanent members.
Venezuela’s critics, however, mounted a last-minute campaign to block the country, questioning its record on human rights. The political opposition in Venezuela rallied behind the case of Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor and political party leader who was a driving force behind protests earlier this year. The Harvard-educated Mr. Lopez has been held in a military stockade since February, accused of stirring bloody unrest.
Last week, the family of the imprisoned leader released a September report by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a group linked to the U.N. Human Rights Council, calling for the release of Mr. Lopez.
The report noted that “the detention of Mr. Lopez in a military stockade would seem based on a motive of discrimination based on his political opinions and options.”
In response, Venezuela’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, waved off the U.N. opinion, saying “No international body can give Venezuela orders in any matter.”
“The question is not just the human-rights record of Venezuela, “ said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director of Washington-based Human Rights Watch. “This is a government that has been happy to give the highest recognition to dictators like Gadhafi, to leaders like Iran’s Ahmadinejad. To have Venezuela as a member of the Security Council is to have a member willing to give protection to some of the worst regimes in the world.”
Other rotating members of the Security Council with checkered human-rights records have included Syria, Rwanda and Libya. Venezuela had been part of the Security Council twice before in the 1960s and 1990s.
Venezuela’s victory was celebrated in Caracas by the leftist government as a validation of the socialist state ideology installed in the country in 1999 by then-President Hugo Chávez.
The charismatic former military officer relished the role of being the most vocal critic of the U.S. in Latin America and sought out alliances with other ideological foes of Washington, including Cuba, Iran, and Syria.
Write to Ezequiel Minaya at email@example.com