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In DC, A Standoff Between Activists For Control of Venezuelan Embassy

Pro-Maduro and pro-opposition protestors outside of Venezuela embassy in Washington D.C. Photo: Embassy Protection Collective Instagram @embassy_protection)
Pro-Maduro and pro-opposition protestors outside of Venezuela embassy in Washington D.C. Photo: Embassy Protection Collective Instagram @embassy_protection

“Attempts at a violent coup in Caracas have nothing to do with the democratic process and only frustrate prospects for political settlement of the crisis.”

The political crisis in Venezuela has spread to its diplomatic outposts in foreign countries. For over two weeks now, U.S.-based pro-Venezuela government and pro-opposition activists have occupied and protested at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC to voice their support for either side.

The situation began when, according to Medea Benjamin of Code Pink (which is one of the groups occupying the building), “a group of U.S. peace activists sought and received permission from the legitimate Venezuelan government to form an Embassy Protection Collective. Since April 15, a group has been living in the embassy, sleeping on couches and floors, while outside supporters have been providing supplies and joining them for meals and educational events.”

Then on April 25, the U.S. State Department ordered the Venezuelan diplomats who had been working inside the building to leave but the peace activists remained behind. The activists continued to live inside the building, holding meetings, dialogues, concerts, reading poems and creating posters supporting the current Venezuelan President. Benjamin writes, “Since then, we have been alone, holding the embassy so that a diplomatic solution can be worked out similar to the situation with Iran.”

Outside of the building, anti-Maduro protesters are blocking access to the building and forming a ring of protestors around the building in the attempt to keep out persons, food and supplies. But a second, side door is also being guarded by the police and Secret Service agents.

The Trump administration, which supports the Venezuelan opposition leader, stated the presence of activists from both of the groups violates Venezuela’s sovereignty. Protesters from both groups have been ordered to leave the diplomatic post, but the U.S. has yet to force them to go.

The Secret Service stated it “is not facilitating, nor preventing, individuals, food, medicine, or any type of emergency services from entering the building,” as SCMP reported.

Failed Guaido Coup, Leads to Embassy Escalation

On April 30 and May 1, Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido called for an uprising to oust current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The call was seen as one of Guaido’s most aggressive attempts to overthrow the Maduro government. At least five were killed, and 233 were arrested as a result.

Coinciding with Guaido’s uprising, a group of pro-Guaido activists took to the D.C. Venezuelan embassy which lead to the standoff that ensues now.

Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin authored an article giving perspective on the situation from the point of view of peace-activists inside of the building:

“On May 1, however, our peaceful presence was violently besieged by angry Guaidó supporters. Designed to coincide with Guaidó’s call for a May 1 uprising, his U.S. representative Carlos Vecchio showed up for a press conference and quickly left, leaving behind an unruly, violent mob. This group has been surrounding the embassy since then, creating mayhem and not allowing food, medicines or supplies to the people inside.

“Even more shocking, the Secret Service, which is tasked with guarding embassies, has allowed this to happen. They have had a constant presence at the embassy since May 1 but have stood by as this group damages the building and threatens the peace activists inside and outside. They have allowed the opposition to bang on the doors with sledgehammers to try to break in, post signs all over the property against the wishes of the legal owners, physically attack people trying to get food inside, and destroy and steal the property of the Embassy Protection Collective (food, placards, signs, canopy). In violation of the city’s noise ordinance, the mob has been blasting sirens all day long at decibels so high that even the Secret Service police have been wearing earplugs. They block the sidewalks and all public passages. They have set up 10 canopies and 3 tents to surround the entire building. When we tried to set up a canopy, we were attacked by Guaidó supporters, but it was our member, Tighe Barry, who was arrested and accused of pushing a Secret Service officer.

“The Secret Service has a public statement saying that no individuals, medicine or food have been prevented from entering the building. We ask anyone who believes this to go to the embassy and try to deliver a package to the people inside. Even packages sent by the U.S. Postal Service are not allowed in. Every entrance is blocked by opponents, and the Secret Service does nothing to stop them. On the contrary, supporters who have tried to bring food have been arrested. This was the case of CODEPINK organizer Ariel Gold. When she found all entrances blocked, she threw bread into an empty ramp outside a door and was arrested for ‘throwing missiles.’ When we tied a package to a rope to send food up through a window, three of us were physically assaulted, and despite clear video evidence, the police refused to arrest our attacker.”

A Crisis Dividing Venezuela and the World

Venezuela, once an oil-rich nation, has been plagued by an economic crisis since the fall of global oil prices in 2014. Many Venezuelans are seeking a better life in neighboring Latin American countries. The UN Refugee Agency reported, “there has been a 4,000 percent increase in the number of Venezuelans seeking refugee status worldwide since 2014, principally in the Americas.”

Current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected in an election last year, but the election was boycotted by many opposition political parties who then claimed after the election that Maduro was not a legitimate leader.

The internal political crisis has lead to a global standoff as countries around the world moved to either back current President Maduro or Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed interim President. The U.S. and its allies support Juan Guaido. While Russia, China, Cuba, and much of the international community – outside of close U.S. allies – are pro-Maduro.

The U.S. has a long history of supporting opposition movements in Venezuela, including the funding and training of Juan Guaido, prompting many to claim the situation in Venezuela is a result of long-running U.S. economic and political warfare.

In fact, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the U.S of interfering in Venezuela’s internal problems by supporting a coup planned by pro-Guaido groups.

“Attempts at a violent coup in Caracas have nothing to do with the democratic process and only frustrate prospects for political settlement of the crisis,” Lavrov said as RFERL reported.

On Monday, Lavrov met U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland where one of the topics discussed was the political crisis in Venezuela.

Lavrov said he hoped that the U.S. will not launch a military intervention in Venezuela as it can be “catastrophic.” American diplomats, Lavrov added, absolutely know the risk of that option.

So What’s Next For Venezuela and the DC Embassy?

Guaido and Washington may still consider a military option, something Washington has repeatedly said is not off the table – but it would be risky as it violates international laws.

The peace activists in the embassy show no desire to leave, so the question may be will they be forced out and if so how will that reverberate in Venezuela?

The activists have formed a group called the Embassy Protection Collective and established a social media presence.

Forcing the activists out of the embassy risks escalating an already tense situation between the U.S. and Venezuela. It could prompt a retaliatory move on the U.S. embassy in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas which, as Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin wrote, could lead to an unwanted military intervention or standoff.

Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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