U.S. State Dept. Shuts Down A Venezuelan Consulate

The U.S. State Department has revoked the visas and diplomatic privileges of a dozen Venezuelan consular officials after a two-month dispute over the Venezuelan government's plans to relocate its Houston office. [The Foreign Ministry of Venezuela issued a statement on Sunday that contradicts the report.]

The Foreign ministry of Venezuela released the following statement with regard to the below reprinted story about the Venezuelan Consulate in Houston:

[Unofficial translation]

The Office of Communications and Institutional Affairs of the Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Relations would like to make the following public knowledge:

Incorrect information has been reported in the media regarding the General Consulate of the BolivarianRepublic of Venezuela in the city of Houston of the United States.

A mishap of a strictly administrative nature has been resolved through diplomatic channels in conversations between the two governments.

No Venezuelan official accredited by the U.S. government has been subject to expulsion.

The Venezuelan government calls for prudence in the dissemination and reporting of information of this type.

Caracas, November 9, 2008.


U.S. State Dept. Shuts Down A Venezuelan Consulate

November 7, 2008 — The U.S. State Department has revoked the visas and diplomatic
privileges of a dozen Venezuelan consular officials after a two-month
dispute over the Venezuelan government's plans to relocate its Houston

Employees with the consulate general in Houston were given until
Sunday to leave the country, or they will become illegal immigrants, a
State Department official confirmed Friday. The consular office on
Fountain View Drive was locked on Friday, with a notice taped in the
window saying it will remain closed until further notice for reasons
"beyond our control."

The expulsion stemmed from the Venezuelan Consulate's decision to
move its Houston office to another location less than five miles away —
apparently without getting permission from the State Department.

Angelo Rivero Santos, the deputy chief of mission at the Venezuelan
Embassy in Washington, D.C., declined to answer questions about the
Houston consular office, instead saying in a statement that "the
situation which occurred in the General Consulate of Houston is of a
technical nature relating to consular rules; it is not political."

"The communication processes related to this mishap have already
been improved. The Consulate is currently undergoing a transition
process; we are working in conjunction with United States authorities
in order to resume activities as soon as possible."

Diplomatic spat

The closure follows a major diplomatic spat
between the two countries. On Sept. 11, Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez ordered U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy to leave Venezuela. The
next day, the State Department said it was expelling the Venezuelan
ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez. Chavez accused Duddy of
conspiring against the Venezuelan government — a charge denied by U.S.

On Friday afternoon, the consul general in Houston, Antonio Padrino,
declined comment. "I'm leaving the U.S. now and can't talk about the
situation," he said.

The consulate's closure has concerned and dismayed some in the local Venezuelan community.

The Houston office was responsible for serving all of Texas, Kansas,
Oklahoma and New Mexico. The nearest consulate is now in New Orleans.

"This is going to be a big problem for many people," said Elio
Cequea, a legal permanent resident from Venezuela who has lived in
Houston since 1990 and called the situation "a mess."

"There are all kinds of problems between the two governments," Cequea said. "This is payback."

According to the State Department, the Venezuelan government
requested on Aug. 2 to move its office from a building near Briarpark
Drive and Westheimer to a location a few miles away, on Fountain View

Based on international protocol, all foreign diplomatic missions in
the U.S. have to clear such moves with State, which has 60 days to
approve, although such requests are generally considered a formality. 

New address

On Sept. 18, although the department had not
yet responded to the request, officials noticed the Houston office had
a new address on the Web site of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington,
said a senior State official who spoke on condition of anonymity
because he was not authorized to comment.

After verifying the information, State Department officials warned
the Venezuelan government to stop operating out of the new office.

But in early October, the department, which had yet to decide on the
transfer request, learned that the consular office was still open.

On Oct. 31, State officials informed the Venezuelan government that
it was revoking the visas, immunity and other diplomatic privileges of
the 12 Venezuelan employees. 

Transfer approved

That same day, the department approved the consulate's transfer to the new location on Fountain View.

Two American staffers will be allowed to work at the new location
while Venezuela may transfer one of its diplomats already inside the
U.S. to run the office, the State official said. Under the law, a home
country national must staff an office in order for it to operate.

Luke T. Lee, a Maryland-based expert on consular law who has worked
for the State Department, said he was not familiar with the situation
with Venezuela, but said the unauthorized move seemed like an unusual
reason to revoke diplomatic status.

"Just by moving? There must be some other reason," said Lee.

Darlene Rivas, an associate professor of history and Latin American
studies with Pepperdine University in California, said the problem may
be merely "procedural," but "given the political tensions between the
two countries, I would not be surprised if this were interpreted as a
political move."

Reporter Stewart Powell contributed from Washington, D.C.

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Source: Houston Chronicle