Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday that his government will close its consulate in Miami after the U.S. government expelled a diplomat.
Chavez said he decided the consulate will shut its doors in response to what he called an unfair action by the U.S. State Department.
"We're going to close it. It's OK. There won't be a consulate in Miami," Chavez said during his annual speech to the National Assembly.
The U.S. Department of State said late Friday afternoon that it had no official comment. A spokesman said the government of Venezuela is free to close any of its consulates but is effectively cutting off assistance to any of the thousands of Venezuelans in the greater Miami area.
Livia Acosta Noguera, Venezuela's consul general in Miami, was ordered out of the U.S. last weekend followed an FBI investigation into allegations that she discussed a possible cyber-attack on the U.S. government while she was assigned to the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico. The allegations were detailed in a documentary aired by the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision.
The documentary was based on recordings of conversations with her and other officials, and alleged that Cuban and Iranian diplomatic missions were involved. Citing audio and video obtained by the students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Univision said Acosta was seeking information about the servers of nuclear power plants in the U.S.
"There's no proof that she was going around carrying out espionage," Chavez said. He said he thought "pressure by sectors of the far-right" in the U.S. were behind her expulsion.
Chavez said the government decided on an "administrative closing of the consulate while we study the situation." It's unclear what the government intends to do with other diplomats stationed in Miami.
The president announced the closure in the middle of the lengthy state-of-the-nation speech to lawmakers.
The leftist president repeated his criticisms of the United States, calling its government "a threat for the world."
Chavez also said he expects a "year of tests" as he runs for re-election, and he pledged to hand over the presidency if he loses.
Chavez has been in office for 13 years and is seeking another six-year term in the October vote. Chavez told opposition lawmakers that if he loses, he "would be the first in recognizing it."
Recent polls say Chavez's popularity has been above 50 percent.
Opponents criticize Chavez's handling of problems such as rampant violent crime and 27.6 percent inflation. The country's opposition coalition said in a statement that Chavez has been "neglecting people's problems due to being busy trying to remain in power."
Chavez defended government policies, including his recent decision to withdraw billions of dollars in its gold reserves from U.S. and European banks and bring it back to the Central Bank in Caracas. Holding up a bar of gold, he criticized prior governments, saying: "They had taken our gold away."
Referring to his struggle with cancer, the 57-year-old president reiterated that he has overcome the illness after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy.
"I needed cancer. I give thanks to God," Chavez said, explaining that the illness had forced him to slow down and reflect.
Turning to international affairs, Chavez defended Iran and its nuclear program, reiterating his view that U.S. concerns about Iran trying to build atomic weapons are baseless. He defended his relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who visited Latin America this week.
"He's a good man. He's not any religious fanatic," Chavez said.
Before his speech, hundreds of supporters wearing the red shirts of his political movement gathered outside the National Assembly and cheered, some of them chanting Chavez's name.
Local 10's Janine Stanwood shot proof that the consulate is locked up for good. Click hereto see.