CARACAS – Personnel at the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami have received threats since Caracas announced last week that the mission will shut down in response to Washington’s decision to expel the top diplomat there, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.
The threats prompted President Hugo Chavez to order the immediate repatriation of Venezuelan personnel and the transfer of the Miami consulate’s functions to other missions in the United States, the ministry said in a statement.
The socialist leader discussed plans to close the consulate – at least temporarily – last Friday during his annual state of the union report to Venezuela’s National Assembly.
The announcement came five days after the U.S. State Department declared Venezuelan Consul General Livia Acosta Noguera persona non grata and ordered her to leave the country within 48 hours.
While the department did not detail the reasons for the expulsion, the move followed the airing on the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision of a program that identified Acosta as one of several Venezuelan and Iranian diplomats who explored an offer from Mexican hackers to infiltrate the Web sites of the White House, the FBI, the Pentagon and U.S. nuclear plants.
Chavez denounced the claims as lies, while an Iranian diplomat interviewed for the program said he rebuffed the ostensible hackers because he suspected they were really working for the CIA.
In expelling Acosta, Washington acted on the basis of “unfounded accusations irresponsibly propagated by a television network known more for its telenovelas (soap operas) than for serious journalism,” the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said Monday.
The expulsion makes evident “Washington’s submission to the agenda of the extremist and violent political sectors that nest in the state of Florida,” the statement continued, denouncing a wave of threats against staff at the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami.
“(I)n light of the criminal and terrorist nature of the individuals and organizations the United States government protects in the state of Florida,” the foreign ministry said that its personnel in Miami face “real, grave and imminent danger.”
Miami is home to a number of anti-Chavez Venezuelan expats and to a large and powerful Cuban exile community that is largely hostile to the current government in Caracas.
Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro militant accused by both Venezuela and Cuba of involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana de Aviacion airliner over Barbados that left 73 dead, is thought to be living in South Florida after his acquittal last April on U.S. federal charges of perjury, fraud and obstruction of justice.
Posada, a Cuban-born Venezuelan citizen, was accused of lying when he applied for political asylum and U.S. citizenship. Federal prosecutors said he perjured himself when he denied under oath that he was involved in bomb attacks on Havana hotels in 1997.
An Italian tourist died in one of the blasts.
Posada acknowledged in a 1998 interview with The New York Times that he helped organize the bombings of hotels in Cuba, but the U.S. Army veteran later claimed that his poor grasp of English caused him to misspeak in his exchange with reporter Ann Louise Bardach.
The 83-year-old Posada was jailed in Venezuela in 1976 for his alleged role in the jetliner bombing, but escaped in 1985 while awaiting a second trial. EFE