Chavez Proposes Venezuelan Ally Bolivia for Security Council

President Hugo Chavez proposed his ally Bolivia as an alternative candidate for the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, but Latin American countries failed to immediately agree on a third candidate to break a deadlock between Venezuela and U.S.-backed Guatemala.

Chavez, in a speech to supporters, said it was a "great moral victory" that the United States had been unable to quash Venezuela's U.N. candidacy, noting that a bloc of 75 to 80 countries has consistently backed Venezuela in repeated rounds of voting.

"Now they're saying we should withdraw both candidacies to search for one of consensus," Chavez said. "Well, I'd like it to be Bolivia. If it's not Venezuela, let it be Bolivia."

"If they want an honorable way out, we don't want to keep that game deadlocked there. We have a lot of work here," Chavez told his audience in a Caracas theater. "What we've shown (U.S.) imperialism is that they can't get their way with Venezuela, and they won't be able to."

Venezuela denounces what it calls coercive measures by the U.S. government to keep a Washington critic off the Security Council.

Neither Venezuela nor Guatemala has been able to muster the needed two-thirds of the 192-member General Assembly to win the rotating Security Council seat.

Venezuela has trailed Guatemala in all but one of more than three dozen rounds of voting. Venezuela tied the Central American country in one round last week.

Several countries in the region expressed hope of an alternative candidate, but it was not clear how much support would go to Bolivia, whose leftist president Evo Morales is among Chavez's closest allies.

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, in La Paz, said his government would accept being a candidate only if Bolivia would be a "tool to reach consensus."

Venezuelan U.N. Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas told local radio network FFF that he understood Guatemala has suggested Costa Rica as an option. But Guatemalan Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal denied that, saying: "We've never proposed an alternative country."

Chavez didn't name any country but said some diplomats, in a meeting earlier this week, had proposed "another one of those countries whose governments do what the U.S. government says. No, we don't accept that."

He said it's regrettable the "U.S. empire uses Guatemala to put a brake on the legitimate hopes of Venezuela."

Critics, including some U.N. diplomats, say they felt Chavez hurt his own support by calling U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil" in a slash-and-burn speech to the United Nations last month.

Chavez, however, said Venezuela represents the "voice of the Third World." No matter how fierce the U.S. government's opposition to him, Chavez said, "they will not be able to humiliate Venezuela."

Fernando Messmer, a Bolivian opposition leader and former diplomat, said Chavez is trying to put a good face on his loss by proposing Bolivia.

"Venezuela is anticipating its defeat, and it offers to cede the candidacy to us to cover up its defeat before the Venezuelan people," Messmer said, adding that Bolivia has very little chance because it would represent the same positions as Venezuela.

Other possible compromise candidates mentioned by diplomats for the U.N. seat have included Chile, Uruguay and Brazil.