MIAMI — About 200 Venezuelans protested Saturday to demand the reopening of their country's consulate in Miami, saying the closing would cut off their access to consular services, such as the right to vote.
Miami has the largest community of expatriate Venezuelans in the United States.
"Living here is not a crime, we are as Venezuelan as the president," Kleber Romero, a computer programmer, told AFP.
He held a Venezuelan flag in Miami's downtown Bayfront Park with a sign bearing the message, "Chavez: How will I vote for you now?"
The protest that included students, retirees and families follows Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's announcement Friday that he would close his country's consulate in Miami in response to a US government decision to expel consul general Livia Acosta.
The United States declared Acosta persona non grata on January 6 and gave her until January 10 to leave the country.
It gave no reason for the action, but the State Department had been looking into a report that while serving in the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico Acosta had discussed a campaign of cyber attacks against the United States.
Chavez called the expulsion "unjust" and "abusive."
The official number of Venezuelans in Florida is about 200,000 but unofficial figures reach as high as one million, making them the largest population of Venezuelans living outside their home country.
The government in Caracas announced it would set up a polling station in Miami for Venezuela's October election.
Some of the protesters said they still need other consular services.
"I receive a pension of about $300," said Julio Sosa, a retired 63-year-old Venezuelan. After mailing and transaction fees, he receives about $240 in cash.
Without the Miami consulate, he said his only other option for receiving the pension payments is to travel to the Venezuelan consulate in New Orleans.
"The cheapest airfare I could get costs $320," Sosa told AFP.
During the demonstration, the organizers of the group calling themselves "Venezuelans in Florida" collected signatures on a letter they plan to send to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Organization of American States (OAS) asking them address the issue of the consulate closing.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »