US scores political gain with Venezuela. Latin state stops backing Puerto Rican independence

After heavy lobbying by the Reagan administration, Venezuela has abandoned its support for a United Nations resolution backed by Cuba and the Puerto Rican independence movement. The resolution, debated this week by the UN decolonization committee, reaffirms Puerto Rico's right to separation from its special relationship with the United States.

A 1952 plebiscite established Puerto Rico as a commonwealth in a ``free state association'' with the US. Although its 3 million citizens neither vote in US elections nor pay US income tax, they have most of the other rights of Americans.

Puerto Rican independence advocates have made much out of the fact that Venezuela has co-sponsored the measure with Cuba for the past four years. But this year, Venezuela's delegation to the committee abstained during Tuesday's vote. Although the measure passed, with support from the Socialist-bloc nations, a majority of committee members either abstained or voted against it.

Venezuela's shift represents a political triumph for the Reagan administration and a personal victory for US Ambassador to the UN Vernon Walters, political analysts here say. Mr. Walters invested a lot of effort in getting Venezuela to reverse its stand on what he calls ``a Cuban propaganda measure'' designed to ``put the US in an embarrassing position.''

Walters directly lobbied Venezuelan opinionmakers via satellite from his UN office last week. The US Embassy here assembled local journalists and leaders, including the chairman of Venezuela's congressional foreign relations committee, and then beamed in Walters to answer questions on Puerto Rico.

Speaking in Spanish, Walters said the UN had no legal jurisdiction to take up the question of the status of Puerto Rico. ``To consider Puerto Rico as a colony of the US is to insult the US and disregard the real facts.''

Washington continued its electronic lobbying the following day with a second Embassy broadcast featuring Puerto Rican Secretary of State H'ector Lu'is Acevedo. Mr. Acevedo told reporters his island has ``an association with the US based entirely on the free will of the Puerto Rican people.''

The two broadcasts received wide coverage in the local press, putting pressure on President Jaime Lusinchi's administration to re-examine its position.

Although the US considers Venezuela a democratic ally and a faithful supplier of petroleum, analysts say, it cannot count on the Lusinchi government for support in the UN.

Venezuela's frequent votes against US positions have become a sore point with the US Embassy here. In March, for example, Venezuela provided the swing vote that killed a US effort to condemn alleged human rights abuses in Cuba, prompting US Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams to call in Venezuelan Ambassador Valent'in Hern'andez.

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