U.S. Ousts Venezuela's Houston Consulate Staff

Tuesday, 11 Nov 2008 03:27 PM

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department has asked Venezuelan staff at their consulate in Houston to leave the United States after they violated procedures for acquiring new office space.

In August, Venezuela requested the department's authorization to lease new space for the consulate's offices, but rented and moved into its new quarters before getting the approval, deputy spokesman Robert Wood said.

It was a violation of the Foreign Missions Act, he said in a statement.

On October 2, the State Department ordered the Venezuelan Embassy to "cease operations immediately" pending a decision on the authorization request, according to his statement.

The department learned later that the Houston consulate was continuing to do business "despite express oral and written instruction" to stop, Wood said.

"The Venezuelan government has admitted this," he added.

"On October 31, the department informed the Venezuelan Embassy that it intended to withdraw the privileges and immunities of the Venezuelan staff at the consulate, and cancel their diplomatic visas," he said.

"The department therefore invited those individuals to depart the United States."

The Venezuelan foreign ministry on Sunday issued a statement referring to "erroneous information circulating through the media," and stating that "strictly administrative problems ... (were) overcome through diplomacy and talks between the two governments."

"No Venezuelan official accredited before the US government has been expelled," it added.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, contacted by AFP on Monday, did not provide an explanation for the diverging statements by the foreign ministry and state department.

Wood said Venezuela still has permission to operate a consulate in Houston.

The State Department told the Venezuelan Embassy that a consular officer can serve temporarily at the new office space in Houston "until the Venezuelan government makes requests for visas for permanent replacement staff," he said.

"We will continue to work with the government of Venezuela to resolve staffing issues at the missions in both of our countries," Wood added.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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