There may be many reasons for Hugo Chávez to close the consulate in Miami, but threats to Venezuelan diplomatic personnel is the least likely. If those threats were real, the Venezuelan foreign ministry could have requested protection from the U.S. State Department. It would have been provided immediately, as it has in the past when requested by any foreign diplomatic mission. Various U.S. law-enforcement agencies are charged, inter alia, with protecting diplomatic and consular sites and personnel. Depending on the level of threat, these can include the uniformed branch of the Executive Protective Service, the Secret Service, the State Department’s own highly trained diplomatic-security forces, the FBI, and, at the federal government’s request, any state or local police or investigation agency.
Instead, Chávez is trying to cover up the fact that his diplomatic service, like that of his Cuban mentor, has become an espionage agency (when I was assistant secretary of state, U.S. law-enforcement agencies estimated that 60 percent of Cuban diplomatic personnel in the U.S. were actually spies and agents of influence). Once the Miami consul general’s cover was blown, the consulate was of less value to Chávez because the replacement consul and remaining personnel were going to be put under enhanced surveillance.
Another possibility is that Chávez knows that Venezuelans living abroad vote for national elections at the nearest consulate. More than 250,000 Venezuelans have settled in Florida since Chávez took over, and the Miami consulate is where the eligible voters among them cast their ballots. In every election under the Chávez regime, the vote at the Miami consulate was about 9-to-1 against Chávez. By closing the consulate, Chávez has thousands fewer opposition votes to worry about.
The U.S. had every right to expel the consul. The question now is: How many other Venezuelan “diplomats” are spies and agents of influence?