Venezuelan U.N. Security Council spot could be thorn in the side for U.S. officials

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There was no smell of sulfur in the air, but Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s first speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly last week was filled with the same fiery rhetoric customary for leaders from the South American nation and could be viewed as a precursor to what can be expected if the country gains a non-permanent spot on the U.N. Security Council come October.

Venezuela looks to be a "shoo-in" for a spot on the Security Council after gaining the backing from Latin American and Caribbean nations for a seat in the 2015-16 session and faces no vocal opposition from the United States or any of the other 192 members that will cast a vote in the October secret ballot. The country needs to win a two-thirds majority to gain the seat currently held by Argentina.

“The likelihood of Venezuela getting on the Security Council is pretty good especially with all of Latin America backing them up,” Eric Olson, the associate director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson Center told Fox News Latino. “It’s a gentlemen’s agreement.”

Maduro’s bid for Venezuela to join the Security Council as a non-permanent member is vastly different from the last time country was up for a spot in 2006, when its late leader Hugo Chávez went on a campaign to promote the country and the United States went on its own lobbying effort to keep the socialist nation off the council — something the U.S. was ultimately successful at.

Venezuela securing a spot on the Security Council is the regime’s last hurrah on the world stage.

— Jason Marczak, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center

In 2014, however, things are different: both nations have kept relatively quiet about Latin America’s nod to Venezuela, the Maduro government is seen to be in much more dire straits than Chávez was in 2006 and it is generally accepted that Venezuela won’t pose a major threat to U.S.'s interests on the Security Council. Maduro did, however, take out a full-page advertisement in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, where he bullet-pointed his speech to the UNGA last week with calls to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba, the end to the U.S. financial harassment of Argentina and the independence of Puerto Rico.

He also mentioned fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and combating the rise of Islamic extremism in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

"The UN must be refounded in order to achieve all together the total PEACE," Maduro wrote. "That this general clamor of making a refoundation of the UN does no fall into emptiness. Let us look for the ways."

Jason Marczak, the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, told FNL this year is a very different situation from 2006, when Chávez launched his world tour.

“The U.S. has learned how to play the game with Venezuela and not directly criticize them, and Venezuela has also learned to keep quiet on the issue,” Marczak said.

With Venezuela now looking all but assured to be sitting next to the U.S. at the Security Council’s table – seats are arranged alphabetically so whoever Venezuela chooses is likely to sit next to U.S. representative Samantha Power – the question arises of how much of an effect the Latin American country will have as the council addresses such touchy geopolitical issues as Russian expansionism into the Ukraine and the U.S.’s assault on Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.

During his 14-year tenure in office, Chávez was a harsh critic of the U.S.’s foreign policy and Maduro has taken up that mantle during his time as president. Also, Venezuela’s current U.N. ambassador and Chávez’s favorite daughter, María Gabriela Chávez, has been floated as the country’s likely representative on the Security Council.

Venezuela also has close political and business ties to permanent security members Russia and China. Given the widening geopolitical divide between the U.S. and Russia, Venezuela’s inclusion on the Security Council could prove a boon to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It will play into the hands of the Russians as the Venezuelans will take orders directly from the Russians,” Marczak said.

Russia and the U.S. have been at odds on a number of issues on the world stage recently, especially in regards to Russian troops entering the Ukraine, the ongoing civil war in Syria and mounting aggression between Israel and the pro-Palestinian group Hamas. Venezuela has staunchly backed Russia in their moves into the Crimea and Maduro openly praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his speech before the United Nations General Assembly for helping stave off Islamic State militants.

Experts, however, argue that despite the balance of power shifting over to Russia with the inclusion of Venezuela in the Security Council, the socialist nation won’t cause any major rifts or changes in the way the council votes. Venezuela may make U.N. Security Council meetings livelier and tenser, but given the U.S.’s veto power on the council Maduro’s government can only really be a thorn in the American’s side when it comes to world affairs, the Wilson Center’s Olson said.

“There will be some unpleasantness and discomfort for the U.S. and its allies,” Olson added. “But Venezuela’s ability to roadblock anything is pretty limited … they’re more of an annoyance than anything else.”

Another factor, observers say, that will limit Venezuela’s role on the Security Council is the country’s own economic and political problems.

Following the death of Chávez, Venezuela has seen skyrocketing violent crime rates, soaring inflation, foreign businesses pulling out of the country and economists have recently begun talking about the possibility of a government default. Maduro, who has clamped down on large protests over the last year, has told foreign creditors that his government will make good on a $4.5 billion foreign debt payment due next month.

Once considered a regional political force – Chávez created the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) as a foil to the Organization of American States (OAS) – the country has lost much of its sway as it became embroiled in its own economic and political complications. As Venezuela’s star wanes on the global stage, more moderate regional powers like Brazil, Chile and Peru continue to ascend – making the Security Council position feel like a final nod to Caracas from its Latin American neighbors.

“Venezuela securing a spot on the Security Council is the regime’s last hurrah on the world stage,” Marczak said.