President Hugo Chávez on Friday announced an "administrative shutdown" of the Venezuelan consulate in Miami, in response to the U.S. State Departments decision to expel the consul in that diplomatic post, Livia Acosta, who had been accused of participating in an Iranian plot against the United States.
The administrative shutdown, which Chávez described as an interim measure while his government makes a final decision, leaves more than 200,000 Venezuelans in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina without a consular site nearby where they can turn to for assistance.
In a speech before the National Assembly, Chávez said that the State Departments decision against Acosta was unfair, spurred by the pressure exerted by the extreme-right sectors that exist in Miami.
"Foreign Minister Nicolás [Maduro] recommended that I close the consulate. Well shut it down, then. Were going to shut it down. There will be no consulate in Miami," the president said, to applause from the ruling party legislators.
"What were going to do is an administrative shutdown of the consulate while we study the situation, because its unfair, its abusive, its immoral, the expulsion of the lady consul who was doing her obligation, her job," he added.
Chávez did not say when the action will be taken. In addition to Miami, Venezuela has consulates in New Orleans, Houston, Boston, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and San Juan, Puerto Rico. It also offers consular services in its Washington embassy.
The State Department expelled Acosta this week, declaring her persona non grata, after release of a recording that linked the diplomat to an Iranian plot against the United States and the appearance of documents that certify that she is part of Chávezs secret police.
In the recording, made when the consul was a cultural attaché at the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico City, Acosta asks an alleged Mexican computer hacker the access codes to nuclear installations in the United States.
The former consul has denied the accusations, which were broadcast in a Univision documentary. But documents obtained by El Nuevo Heald indicate that Acosta, as well as vice consul Edgard González Belandria, who directs the issuance of passports in the Miami consulate, are subscribers to the savings plan of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN, for its name in Spanish), which means that they are on the payroll of that police organization.
The scandal swirling around the official led U.S. legislators this week to ask the authorities to begin an investigation of all of Venezuelas diplomatic offices in the United States, on suspicion that Acosta is just one member of a wide espionage network.
In his speech, Chávez said those accusations are a concoction by the empire.
There is no proof that she [Acosta] was engaging in espionage, he said. Her expulsion was infamous [ ] It was done under pressure from the extreme-right sectors. That was the reason why they expelled the consul.
The decision leaves hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans without a nearby place where they can deal with passports, certificates, legalizations and transfers from Venezuela.
If the shutdown lasts throughout this year, it could also imperil the vote of about 20,000 Venezuelans who registered to vote in Miami for the presidential election in Venezuela in October. More than 95 percent of those voters have traditionally voted in favor of the opposition.