U.S. State Dept. Shuts Down A Venezuelan Consulate (UPDATED II)
UPDATES: On Monday 10 November 2008, "President Chavez says changing the building that housed Venezuela's consulate in Houston was an error attributed to a lack of coordination. Consul Antonio Padrino is responsible for the mistake and has been removed from office. Chavez declares that Padrino made the house move without requesting authorization from the US authorities or the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington. The consul has been dismissed, the President confirms, and the situation has been clarified. Chavez complains that the incident has been used and exploited by some media sources, especially in the USA "at a moment when we are living in a situation of transition." Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro states that a " sector within the State Department" has been trying to manipulate the problem and create conflicts but the situation has been resolved by administrative and democratic means. The government denies that all consulate staff were given marching orders
The Venezuela government issued a communiqué on Sunday 9 November, 2008 announcing a diplomatic agreement had been reached with the US over the expulsion of its personal from the Hounston Consulate. As Americans celebrated the election of Barak Obama as their new Democrat President, Venezuela and US bilateral relations were going through yet another crisis. This time, it is a consular one though. After the Venezuelan Consulate moved to a new address in Houston two months ago but without prior leave from the US State Department expressed its dismay. Then, a procedural tension over the consular regulations led to the expulsion of a dozen Venezuelan consular officials on Friday. They have been given until tomorrow-Sunday - to leave the US as their consular privileges and visa have been cancelled. This is new chapter in the already deteriorated political bilateral relations between the US and Venezuela. The Chavez´s administration had expressed its willingness to improve them as Democrat candidate Obama won the elections this week. Venezuelan government has not issued any statement on the consular impasse yet.
November 8th 2008, by Susan Carroll and John Otis - Houston Chronicle. 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. 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. officials. 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 Drive. 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.