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Deny Venezuela that U.N. Security Council seat

| Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

In a Sept. 24 letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, 14 members of the House of Representatives of both parties called on the Obama administration “to take a decisive stand” on Venezuela's candidacy for a two-year seat on the U.N. Security Council. U.S. officials had said they would not actively oppose it.

Under U.N. rules, Venezuela's nomination will be submitted to a secret vote by the 193-country General Assembly, which usually supports each region's candidate for non-permanent seats.

In their letter, the U.S. legislators said that “a Venezuelan seat at the Security Council will embolden the Venezuelan regime and will serve as a platform from which the rogue regimes it collaborates with can use to advance their own political agendas.”

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, they said, is an enthusiastic supporter of some of the world's worst dictatorships.

Among other things, Venezuela is helping Iran circumvent United Nations sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. Maduro has strongly supported Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad in the civil war that has already left more than 200,000 dead. Furthermore, when Russia invaded Crimea earlier this year, Venezuela was one of only 11 United Nations member countries that supported it, signatories of the letter argue.

The letter also calls for “harsher sanctions against human rights violators of the Maduro regime.”

At least 43 people have died, more than 800 have been wounded and about 2,500 have been arrested during student protests in Venezuela this year. According to Human Rights Watch, there was an “alarming pattern” of human rights violations by government forces, which included at least 10 documented cases of torture of students and several shootings at point-blank range.

State Department spokeswoman Angela Cervetti says the Obama administration constantly states its concern about Venezuela's human rights and democracy record and that it recently revoked U.S. visas of about two dozen Venezuelan officials involved in human rights abuses. But she adds that there's not much the United States can do about Venezuela's likely ascension to council.

But the fact that Latin American governments have turned their backs on the defense of democracy and human rights to elect Venezuela to a Security Council seat should not be an excuse for inaction by the Obama administration.

Venezuela's election to the seat must still be approved by a two-thirds vote in a secret ballot. That means that it could be blocked with 65 votes. At a time of escalating world conflicts — and given that Venezuela would almost surely use its seat at the world's most important diplomatic body to support some of the world's worst dictatorships and terrorist groups — Obama should spend some political capital in pursuing those 65 votes.

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for The Miami Herald.

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