Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, is received by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on Monday, Jan. 9. Ahmadinejad visited with Chavez as tensions rose with the U.S. over Tehran's nuclear program and a death sentence against an American man convicted of working for the CIA. Venezuela is the first leg of a four-nation tour that will also take Ahmadinejad to Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador.
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 his government has decided the consulate will shut its doors in what he called an "administrative closing" in response to the consul's expulsion by the U.S. State Department.
Livia Acosta Noguera, Venezuela's consul general in Miami, was ordered out of the U.S. last weekend followed allegations that she discussed possible cyber-attacks on the U.S. while she was stationed at the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico.
The action came after an FBI investigation into allegations detailed in a documentary aired by the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision last month. According to the documentary, Acosta discussed a possible cyber-attack against the U.S. government while assigned as a diplomat in Mexico.
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.
Chavez has defended the diplomat.
He announced the decision to close the Miami consulate during his annual speech to the National Assembly.
The leftist president repeated his criticisms of the United States, calling its government "a threat for the world."
During the speech, 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 show that 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. Chavez said cancer also helped him reflect and change, and said: "I give thanks to God."
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 also 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 red shirts gathered outside the National Assembly and cheered, some of them chanting Chavez's name.