Venezuela Keeps Regional Human Rights Seat in Blow to U.S.

Venezuela held onto its seat on a Pan-American human rights commission on Tuesday in a blow to U.S. diplomacy a day after the countries traded barbs over media freedom and the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

By Brian Harris - Reuters
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PANAMA CITY, June 5 (Reuters) - Venezuela held onto its seat on a Pan-American human rights commission on Tuesday in a blow to U.S. diplomacy a day after the countries traded barbs over media freedom and the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Member countries of the Organization of American States, or OAS, voted at a meeting of the hemispheric body in Panama to give Venezuelan Luz Patricia Mejia one of four seats opening up on its seven-member regional human rights commission.

The United States and its foe Venezuela both hold seats but the Venezuelan-held position is one of four due to change hands by December. Washington, which is at loggerheads with leftist President Hugo Chavez, had pushed for Bolivia to fill the seat.

The vote came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice slammed Venezuela at the OAS meeting for closing a private television station and Venezuela's foreign minister bit back by comparing Guantanamo Bay to Nazi Germany.

After the vote, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro grinned at the media to show his pleasure at the result and Venezuelan officials promptly presented Mejia to reporters, although she refused to comment on the human rights situation in either Venezuela or the United States.

Based in Washington, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights investigates complaints of abuses in the Americas, and can elevate charges of violations to the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Its members act independently, without representing any particular country.

The vote capped the final day of the OAS general assembly, which had been the scene of high-level tension between Venezuela and the United States.

During a heated verbal exchange with Maduro on Monday, Rice called on the OAS to investigate the recent government closure of RCTV, a private Venezuelan television channel critical of Chavez and his self-styled socialist revolution.

Maduro retorted that an OAS commission should investigate whether human rights were violated at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where 380 prisoners are held.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. diplomat present at Tuesday's vote said its outcome was a result of top crude oil exporter Venezuela giving poor OAS member countries preferential financing terms for oil.

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