Code Pink defends standoff at the Venezuelan embassy

Peace activists and coup supporters in standoff

(Washington, DC) — At a time when Washington D.C.’s embassies are celebrating spring with Open House in May as part of culture tours, there is one exception.

The Venezuelan attaches and embassies in the U.S. have been in turmoil ever since President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected last year. Relations are strained due to a disagreement on who should be Venezuelan president. As a result of this and the increase in political crossfire, embassies in both countries have shut down, and embassies’ employees ordered to leave, or their visas not renewed.

Due to the U.S. recognition of Juan Guaido, opposition leader of the National Assembly as self-proclaimed president, a variety of punitive measures are in place. They include heavy sanctions, trade blockades, sending in armed aid convoys, and even proposals to send an aircraft carrier off the Venezuelan coast to help strengthen the oil embargo.

In New York City, and Washington, D.C., Venezuelan embassies which have closed are transitioning or reopening under what the U.S. State Department recognizes as the interim government of President-in-waiting Juan Guaido. Already the military attache in Washington, D.C. is under interim management. However the main embassy located in historic Georgetown is in a standoff led by the Embassy Protection Collective ever since Venezuelan personnel were forced to vacate the building by April 24 due to expired visas.

Prominent activists from national anti-war or pro-peace groups such as Code Pink, Popular Resistance, and ANSWER Coalition have encamped in the building with permission from the previous embassy personnel in the hopes that the US might reverse its bellicosity. Since mid-April they have been holding planning meetings, teach-ins, and lectures inside the building with the permission of staff. Since April 24, they have encamped in the building, entering and leaving with card keys, living on the second floor and holding rallies. Toward the end of the month, a rowdy coup group began to coalesce around the building, hoping to takeover the building for Juan Guaido’s named “Ambassador” Carlos Vecchio.

When AGN visited the embassy on Friday afternoon May 3, 2019, the pro-peace activists had already encamped for nearly ten nights. No longer were colorful peace banners and huge “No War for oil” posters draped from the third story windows or clinging onto walls. Instead a vociferous opposition group had established itself outside including with tents, bull-horns, and a number of provisions. Except for blue-armbands, a visitor might even mistake the coup group for peace volunteers.

Pro-Guaido group tents obstruct ingress and egress for peace activists

Nice tents, many provisions by pro-Guaido group

The coup supporters, numbering up to 100, are engaged in a crusade to force the Code Pink peace-activists out by physical and psychological intimidation. What is worse is they have the unspoken support of DC Police, Secret Service, and Homeland Security standing guard near the embassy night and day. Favoritism is demonstrated towards the pro-Guaido supporters in their leeway to walk where they please, conduct themselves rowdily, including transgressing left of the entrance and loitering on the right side, in front of the peace activists’ designated area.

For instance a heckler with a bull-horn marches back and forth along the street then crosses over to shout a rant such as:

“Let us get into our building. We are locked out of our own embassy. You don’t belong here. You don’t even speak Spanish. You don’t belong here. You are U.S. interventionists. We need our passports because we are Americans. Why discriminate against me because I am white and light-skinned and speak English? If you have a question ask us because we are Venezuelans. Don’t let them appropriate our cause!”

The cacophony is punctuated by an activist with a sound-blaster that emits loud sirens every so often. Other activists cross the barricades from the left to right to taunt the activists, while the DC Police and other Homeland Security officers stand around watching the aggravations. There have also been reports of coup supporters’ vandalism such as breaking security cameras, lighting firecrackers, and trying repeatedly to enter the building.

Reactionaries hostility supported by police

Code Pink right side of building routinely heckled by coup supporters

The confrontational behavior including heckling, taunts, and intimidation have not been ignored by Code Pink and their legal representatives.

Partnership for Civil Justice Fund writes:

“Your officers are acting as aiders, abettors, encouragers, and joint tort-feasors in the assaultive, menacing, threatening and at times violent conduct against the lawfully present peace activists at the Embassy by a mob of right wing thugs.”

As of May 2, 2019, at least three Code Pink activists have been physically assaulted by opposition group forces or the police who wrestled one activist to the ground. During AGN‘s visit, the activists appeared quite subdued, quietly holding their posters. Even singing or chanting, their noise decibel levels are significantly less than reactionaries who wander alongside the canal, the sides of the building, and are holding a cook-out in the back of the building.

Tossed food, thrown missiles?

Ariel Gold and Chris Herz arrested for tossing food

One of the activists, co-founder Ariel Gold, was interviewed by TVU Noticias, and referred to her previous arrest and release.

What follows is what was overheard by AGN:

“They, the people are inside on the second floor. They have no access to food and medicine and tampons. The pro-Guaido people have behaved like thugs, blocking the staircase so we cannot get inside. I threw bread, salad, greens, etc. up to the platform. The police report says I was throwing missiles. I was just trying to fulfill my designated responsibility to provide food.”

The number of the opposition group coming to the embassy increased over Friday afternoon, as if they had been invited to come to a soccer event. Men showed up draped in Venezuelan flag colors, women proudly paraded their artwork and posters, and others strolled down along the canal where they lingered for hours. Clearly these supporters are not merely interested in being able to access the building but are anti-Maduro protesters. Over the past days their posters and artwork taped over the entrance and walls make a strong impression on passersby. They argue that President Maduro is a fascist who has killed many people. They view the peace activists as foreign invaders coming onto their property.

Pro-regime change supporters tape anti-Maduro signs

Anti-Maduro signs block Embassy entrance

A longtime Code Peace activist, Joanne, told AGN:

“Right now the police are not allowing anyone back in who comes out. Some food and medical supplies are going in. Our message is not directed to pro-Guaido supporters but to the U.S. government for evicting the ambassador. We are citizens protesting the government’s policies. Our government is supporting a coup, because they want regime change. The U.S. government is only interested in oil, just like in Iraq…Our government has no business telling them to leave.”

On the whys and wherefores of the standoff and occupation, here is what original founder Media Benjamin wrote at Counterpunch on April 23:

“According to Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, diplomatic premises are ‘inviolable.’ Moreover, the receiving State must protect the premises against any ‘intrusion, disturbance of the peace or impairment of its dignity.’ A takeover by an unelected government would certainly violate these principles. Like it or not, the Maduro government is actually the government in power in Venezuala and is recognized by the United Nations. This Trump-orchestrated plan of creating a parallel government and then simply taking over diplomatic premises is totally illegal.”

On April 25 before a forum presented by John Kiriakou, a former CIA official, Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance spoke out in solidarity with the Embassy Protection Collective and against police intimidation in a statement including:

“If the US proceeds to violate the property of the Venezuelan Embassy, it will send a message to all the countries in the world that their embassies are not protected by international law in the United States. The US wants to install a coup puppet government and is willing to violate the law to do so. That is a message the United States should not send to governments around the world.”

Indeed this is an extraordinary saga taking place but tending by the corporate media to be portrayed as a disruption rather than first-time grassroots embassy occupation to prevent war, bloodshed, military spending, and to protect the inviolable principles of embassies as foreign sanctuaries whose guests must be protected by international law.

As to what the outcome of the standoff led will lead to, Brian Becker of ANSWER Coalition shares his perspective:

“Everyday we are able to stay in the embassy is a victory.”

Indeed if it helps save millions of innocent lives and billions of U.S. tax payer dollars while averting new austerity measures here at home—we think the price is worth it.

The Embassy Protection Collective can use your moral and financial support. Contact Popular Resistance, ANSWER Coalition, and Code Pink. Other NGOs speaking out include Black Agenda Report and the Green Party of the United States.