What’s going on at the Venezuelan Embassy in D.C?
- On March 18, 2019 representatives of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó appropriated Venezuela’s military attaché building in Washington D.C. and consulate in New York City and announced plans to take over the D.C. embassy. Determined to avoid another U.S. war, a group of US peace activists, including CODEPINK, sought and received permission from the legitimate Venezuelan government to form an Embassy Protection Collective.
- On April 10 we moved into the four-story embassy in the Georgetown neighborhood sleeping on sofas and floors to maintain our presence. At first, the Venezuelan diplomats were still working in the building, but they were all ordered by the State Department to leave the country by April 25. Since then, we have been holding the embassy so that a diplomatic solution can be worked out similar to the situation with Iran, where U.S. Interests Section in Tehran has been operating under the Swiss Embassy and the Iranian Interests Section in Washington DC is operating under the Pakistani Embassy.
- On April 30, when a group of Guaidó supporters — almost coinciding with his call for an uprising inside Venezuela — descended on the embassy, determined to oust us and seize the building. They came banging pots and pans, blaring piercing sirens, horns and megaphones. They have used lasers to flash into our eyes at night while banging menacingly on the doors with sledgehammers. They plastered their own signs all over the building.
- On May 8, Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco), assisted by the Secret Service, cut electricity and water to the embassy building despite all utility bills being paid in full. Despite all of this, the activists inside, including CODEPINK’s Paki Weiland, remain strong and resolute they will remain inside the embassy to protect it for as long as it takes.
What is at stake if the Venezuelan Embassy gets turned over to Juan Guaidó, how might it affect the situation in Venezuela?
Many scenarios could ignite a war with Venezuela, including a fight over embassies. The United States and Venezuela broke diplomatic ties on Jan. 23, when Guaidó declared himself interim president and the Trump administration immediately recognized him. Diplomats in both capitals vacated their embassies, leaving skeletal staff but keeping the buildings intact. Then on March 18, Guaidó’s representatives in the United States escalated the tensions by appropriating Venezuela’s military attaché building in Washington and the consulate in New York City, while announcing plans to take over the D.C. embassy.
A takeover of the embassy of a sovereign nation whose government holds power and is recognized by the United Nations would be an illegal act. According to the 1961 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, diplomatic premises are inviolable and the receiving State must protect the premises against any “intrusion, disturbance of the peace or impairment of its dignity.” If the Trump administration succeeds in giving the Washington D.C, embassy to Guaidó, via expelling the activists lawfully living inside the embassy, the Maduro government would likely reciprocate by taking over the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. This could be just what warhawks John Bolton and Elliot Abrams are looking for as a justification for a US military intervention.
Are we denying Venezuelans consular services inside the embassy?
Juan Guaidó’ has zero legitimacy inside Venezuela. As such, if his representatives take over the embassy in D.C, they will not be able to issue passports, extend visas, or perform any other consular services. The only way to reinstate consular services at the embassy is for a diplomatic solution to be worked out with the Maduro government.
Do we support of the Maduro government?
The Embassy Protection Collective is comprised of individuals and organizations with various opinions about the Maduro government —some pro, some neutral, some sceptical — but we are all determined to stop U.S. intervention.
Can food and/or medicine get into the embassy building?
The Secret Service has put out a public statement saying that no individuals, medicine or food have been prevented from entering the building — this is entirely untrue! Every entrance to the building is blocked by opponents who refuse to let people, food, medicine, or supplies. The Secret Service does nothing to stop the opponents from blocking the entrances and the Secret Service themselves are even blocking the driveway entrance where food and supplies could otherwise get in. When supporters of the activists inside have tried to bring food, they have been arrested. This was the case of CODEPINK’s Ariel Gold who, finding all entrances blocked, threw bread into an empty platform outside a door and was arrested for “throwing missiles.” Even packages sent by the US Postal Service are not allowed in, which is a federal offense. On occasion, we have been able to tie a package to a rope to send food up through a window. This involves doing so quickly before being attacked by the opposition or police. On one occasion when we were able to pulley things in through a window, three of us were physically assaulted and despite clear video evidence, the police refused to arrest our attacker.
What is the legal status of the activists inside the embassy?
International Law Protects Foreign Embassies located in The United States. According to Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, foreign embassies should be protected by the United States government and their space should not be violated by the US government. Specifically, international law requires:
- The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.
- The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.
- The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.
The Trump Administration would be violating the Vienna Convention if it allowed the illegal seizure of the Venezuela embassy. The Election Protection Collective is supporting the people of Venezuela by taking responsibility to ensure that Article 22 of the Vienna Convention is not violated.
What is it like for people inside the building?
Our people inside are without sufficient food and other critical supplies and without water or electricity. They are not allowed to freely exit and enter the building. They sleep at night with a terrible sense of insecurity, worried that the angry mob will break in and attack. But we —those of us on the inside and those of us supporting them on the outside — remain resolute and we demand that our government respect U.S. and international law. The Secret Service must protect the Embassy and the people who are lawfully on embassy property until the two governments come to an agreement about their properties. At that time, the Embassy Protection Collective will happily leave the embassy, happy because we can go back to our lives but happy, most of all, because we will have helped to give John Bolton and Elliot Abrams one less reason to drag our nation into another war.