At 9.30am on May 16, police officers illegally entered the Venezuelan embassy in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington DC and arrested four activists lawfully living in the building since April 10, as guests of the legitimate Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro.
The four activists arrested were Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese (with the group Popular Resistance), Adrienne Pine (an academic) and David Paul (a CODEPINK member). They are part of a group called the Embassy Protection Collective.
According to the Embassy Protection Collective’s attorney Mara Verheyden Hilliard, the activists were charged with “interference with certain protective functions”.
“It is notable that they were not charged with trespassing, which makes it perfectly clear that the United States government does not want to be in the position of having to explain who is lawfully in charge of these premises,” Hilliard said.
“What we are seeing … is the most extraordinary violation of the Vienna Convention. The fact that the State Department has broken into a protected diplomatic mission to arrest the peace activists inside is something that will have repercussions the world over,” explained Hilliard.
“We denounce these arrests, as the people inside were there with our permission, and we consider it a violation of the Vienna Conventions,” said Venezuelan deputy foreign minister Carlos Ron.
“We do not authorise any of the coup leaders to enter our embassy in Washington DC. We call on the US government to respect the Vienna Conventions and sign a Protecting Power Agreement with us that would ensure the integrity of both our embassy in Washington DC and the US embassy in Caracas,” said Ron.
The US has been negotiating with Switzerland to take charge of its Caracas embassy and Venezuela has been negotiating with Turkey to take charge of its DC embassy. These critical negotiations will be broken, however, if the US illegally hands over the Venezuelan embassy to the forces of opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
Members of the Embassy Protection Collective, including activists from CODEPINK, Popular Resistance and the ANSWER Coalition, moved into the Venezuelan embassy to serve as an interim protection force. This was to prevent the Donald Trump administration from allowing Guaidó’s representatives to take over the building — as part of a repeatedly attempted and failed coup.
From April 10 to April 30, members of the Embassy Protection Collective were able to come and go freely from the building. Up to 50 activists were sleeping there.
On April 30 — coinciding with Guaidó’s failed call for an uprising inside Venezuela — a group of Guaidó supporters descended on the embassy, determined to oust the activists and seize the building. They blared sirens, horns, and megaphones and surrounded the perimeter of the building with tents, refusing to allow food, medicine, supplies, or people to enter. Multiple peace activists were physically assaulted and arrested when they attempted to approach the building with food.
On May 8, Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco), assisted by the Secret Service, cut off the electricity, despite all utility bills being paid in full.
The Collective maintains that the arrests were illegal under Articles 22 and 45 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, in which diplomatic premises are “inviolable” and agents of the receiving state may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.
The Trump administration has not only allowed illegal seizures of diplomatic premises belonging to Venezuela, but has actively facilitated it, by giving the Venezuelan Military Attaché building and its New York City consulate to the opposition.
“This struggle is far from over. We will continue to fight to stop this embassy from being handed over by the Guaidó supporters,” said CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin.
“The Embassy Protection Collective recognises that turning over the embassy to Guaidó would place the US embassy in Caracas in jeopardy. We will continue to use all methods at our disposal to keep the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC empty until a diplomatic solution — a Protecting Power Agreement — can be worked out between the US and the Venezuelan governments,” Benjamin added.
A Protecting Power Agreement would allow third countries to take charge of both the Venezuela and US embassies. Such an agreement could lead to further negotiations to avoid a military conflict, which would be catastrophic for Venezuela, the United States, and for the region.
[Abridged from CODEPINK.]