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January 23, 2012

Venezuela: Chavez says consulate closure not about hamstringing primaries

The rumble over Venezuela's consulate in Miami continues. On Sunday, President Hugo Chavez insisted that his decision to close the office had to do with the safety of the staff there, and not any desire to hamstring the Feb. 12 opposition primaries. 

If you're unfamiliar with the spat, check out this story. 

"Now that we closed the consulate because of threats to our personnel, they accuse me of trying to sabotage the primary elections and that it's an abuse of the Venezuelans that live in Miami," he said during his Sunday television show. "Now they say we're the ones being abusive."

South Florida exiles are concerned they will have nowhere to cast their ballots as the coalition of opposition groups vote for a single candidate to face-off against Chavez in October. 

Chavez has said that Venezuelan exile groups were threatening the staff - a charge those groups deny. 

But during a US Department of State briefing last week, the spokesmen did acknowledge there had been...something.

Here's the Jan 17 exchange with Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner

QUESTION: Yesterday the country recalled its consular staff in Miami, saying they faced grave and imminent danger. So what – do you have a reaction to that?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, obviously we take the security of all foreign missions very, very seriously. This is something, as you’re well aware, that we talk about in terms of other governments around the world, that we ask – urge them to uphold their obligations under the Vienna Conventions. We hold ourselves, obviously, to those same standards. If a Venezuelan official in the U.S. did receive any threats, those threats should be reported to the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, who also works with relevant law enforcement agencies to take appropriate steps to address them.

Obviously, the --

QUESTION: Have you received any reports of threats?

MR. TONER: Well, I’m – let me finish, Kirit.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR. TONER: The decision on how to manage its consulates and how to provide consular services to Venezuelan citizens is ultimately that of the Venezuelan Government. Now specifically to Kirit’s questions, we did previously assist the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami to address some minor security concerns in December, but since then we’ve not received any reports of any new threats against the consulate or its employees, nor any additional requests for security support.

QUESTION: Can you describe what those threats --

MR. TONER: I can’t. I can’t get into the details.

QUESTION: But you described them as minor. I mean, what is minor?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: Not significant.

QUESTION: Thank you.



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jim wyss

Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.

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