Venezuela Embassy Protection Collective Defies ‘No Trespass’ Order

Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright describe the collective’s encounter Tuesday with D.C. police, who refrained from evacuating the embassy. 

By Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright
Codepink

An extraordinary set of events has been unfolding at the Venezuela embassy in Washington, D.C., since April 11, when the Embassy Protection Collective began living at the embassy with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela to protect it from an illegal takeover by Venezuela’s opposition. The actions of the police have added a new level of drama.

Since the cutting off of electricity, food and water inside the embassy has not been enough to force the collective to leave, late Tuesday afternoon, the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police handed out a trespassing notice that was printed without letterhead or signature from any U.S. official.

The notice said that the Trump administration recognizes Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the head of the government of Venezuela and that the Guaidó-appointed ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, and his appointed ambassador to the Organization of American States, Gustavo Tarre, were to determine who is allowed into the embassy. Those not authorized by the ambassadors were to be considered trespassers. Those inside the building were “requested” to depart the building.

Police outside Venezuela embassy. (Ann Wright)

The notice appeared to have been written by the Guaidó faction, but was posted and read by D.C. police as if it were a document from the U.S. government.

The police taped the notice to the doors all around the embassy, which is located in Georgetown,  and later called in the fire department to cut the lock and chain that had been on the front door of the embassy since diplomatic relations were broken between Venezuela and the United States on Jan. 23.

Supporters Gather

Adding to the drama, supporters of both sides began to gather. The pro-Guaidó forces, who had erected tents around the perimeter of the embassy and had set up a long-term encampment to oppose the collective inside the building, were ordered to take down their encampment. It seemed as though this was part of moving them from outside the embassy to the inside.

Two hours later, some members of the collective inside the embassy voluntarily left to reduce the load on food and water, and four members refused to obey what they considered an illegal order to vacate the premises. The crowd waited in anticipation of the police going inside and physically removing, and arresting, the remaining collective members. The pro-Guaidó forces were jubilant, crying “tic-toc, tic-toc” as they were counting down the minutes before their victory.

Venezuelan embassy. (YouTube)

Venezuelan embassy. (YouTube)

In a remarkable turn of events, however, instead of arresting the collective members who remained inside, a lengthy discussions ensued between them, their lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and the D.C. police. The discussion focused on the reason collective members were in the embassy in the first place — trying to stop the Trump administration from violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Facilities by turning over the diplomatic premises to a coup government.  

Collective members reminded police officers that following illegal orders does not protect them from being charged with criminal actions.  

After two hours, instead of arresting the collective, police turned around, locked the door behind them, posted guards and said they would ask their superiors how to handle the situation. The crowd was stunned that the State Department and D.C. police, after having over a month to organize the eviction, had begun this operation without a full plan to include arrests warrants in case the collective members did not vacate the building voluntarily.

Kevin Zeese’s Statement 

Kevin Zeese, a collective member, wrote a statement concerning the status of the collective and the embassy:

Kevin Zeese: Tenant of Venezuela. (Slowking4, GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons)

Kevin Zeese. (Slowking4, GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons)

“This is the 34th day of our living in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. We are prepared to stay another 34 days, or however long is needed to resolve the embassy dispute in a peaceful way consistent with international law… Before doing so, we reiterate that our collective is one of independent people and organizations not affiliated with any government. While we are all US citizens, we are not agents of the United States. While we are here with permission of the Venezuelan government, we are not their agents or representatives…  The exit from the embassy that best resolves issues to the benefit of the United States and Venezuela is a mutual Protecting Power Agreement. The United States wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in Caracas. Venezuela wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in DC… The Embassy Protectors will not barricade ourselves, or hide in the embassy in the event of an unlawful entry by police. We will gather together and peacefully assert our rights to remain in the building and uphold international law… Any order to vacate based on a request by coup conspirators that lack governing authority will not be a lawful order. The coup has failed multiple times in Venezuela. The elected government is recognized by the Venezuelan courts under Venezuelan law and by the United Nations under international law. An order by the US-appointed coup plotters would not be legal…Such an entry would put embassies around the world and in the United States at risk. We are concerned about US embassies and personnel around the world if the Vienna Convention is violated at this embassy. It would set a dangerous precedent that would likely be used against US embassies….If an illegal eviction and unlawful arrests are made, we will hold all decision-makers in the chain of command and all officers who enforce unlawful orders accountable….There is no need for the United States and Venezuela to be enemies. Resolving this embassy dispute diplomatically should lead to negotiations over other issues between the nations.”

Collective members anticipate that the Trump administration will go to court to request an official U.S.-government order to remove them.

National Lawyers Guild’s Statement 

Members of the National Lawyers Guild wrote a statement challenging the Trump administration’s handing over of diplomatic facilities to unlawful persons:

“The undersigned write to condemn the violations of law which are occurring at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. and to demand immediate action be taken. Prior to April 25, 2019, a group of peace activists were invited to the Embassy by the government of Venezuela – recognized as such by the United Nations – and continue to be lawfully on the premises.

Nonetheless, the United States government, through various law enforcement agencies, have condoned and protected violent opponents in support of an attempted siege of the Embassy. In so doing, the U.S. government is creating a dangerous precedent for diplomatic relations with all nations. These actions are not only illegal, but they put embassies around the world at risk. The contempt shown by the Trump Administration for these principles and for international law puts at risk the entire system of diplomatic relations which could have a reverberating effect in nations throughout the world.

The undersigned demand that the United States immediately cease its ongoing state-sponsored assault and illegal intervention in Venezuela and against its government, which continues to be recognized by the United Nations and the majority of the world. We demand that local and federal law enforcement immediately refrain from exposing the peaceful invitees and their supporters inside and outside the Embassy to harm in violation of their fundamental human rights.”

As this saga over the Venezuela embassy continues to unfold, history will record this as a key turning point in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, U.S. violation of a key tenet of international law and most of all, as a heroic example of US citizens doing everything in their power — including going without food, water and electricity and facing daily assaults by the opposition — to try to stop a U.S.-orchestrated coup.

Medea Benjamin, a member of the Embassy Protection Collective, is cofounder of CODEPINK Women for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic,” “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection,” and “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.”

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel.   She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. She is co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

This article first appeared on  Codepink. 

 

 

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24 comments for “Venezuela Embassy Protection Collective Defies ‘No Trespass’ Order

  1. Megan Rice
    May 21, 2019 at 22:20

    As it really happened. I am honored to have been inside the embassy about a week before this illegal lock- down occurred, and know the experience of illegal actions by the US with regard to International Law which superceeds US Constitutional Laws and customs.

  2. Mata Hikaka
    May 19, 2019 at 19:26

    Please keep up the good work no one in my country is reporting on this diplomatic disaster New Zealand reporters I’ve rung want nothing to do with it.

  3. ed kinane
    May 17, 2019 at 12:59

    Bless the courageous occupiers of the the DC Venezuelan embassy;
    shame on the U.S. government and its agencies and operatives seeking to illegally evict them
    and seeking to perpetrate illegal regime change in Venezuela!
    Such recklessness is very bad karma for the U.S. empire across the planet.

  4. May 17, 2019 at 00:29

    Bless D.C. police for recognizing and hopefully defending on US soil the right of the legitimately elected government in Venezuela to designate who can occupy its embassy in the District of Columbia.

  5. MARY FLOYD
    May 16, 2019 at 13:39

    There is EVERY reason for the US and Venezuela to be enemies! The US has attempted coups d ‘tat over a decade and the latest barrage of attempts has certainly made them enemies now, if not before!! The United States has now blown its cover – by design –
    of being a friendly member of the world. It is following Hitlers playbook, word for word, and is hegemonic in all its actions relating to world politics…
    The Maduro government is the legal, duly elected one and only the US and a handful of its puppet nations are the only ones in agreement that Guaido should be president…. The people living in the Venezuelan Embassy are to be commended and it if were possible, there are thousands of Americans who would gladly not only take them food and water, but generators and in deed, join them in their very honorable and brave stance remaining there. The Washington DC and other officers of the ‘law’ are following instructions of an illegal US administration…one elected because of help of foreign enemies of the US…
    NO COUP!! NO WAR AGAINST VENEZUELA FOR OIL!!!

  6. Jill
    May 16, 2019 at 11:58

    “law” enforcement has broken into the basement of the embassy (no cameras there so they could do everything out of public view) and arrested embassy protectors. We have a neocon fascist coup in the US and they will bring down this nation if they are not brought to justice in a court of law.

  7. Karl Brantz
    May 16, 2019 at 10:08

    This is the historical point of governmental and societal collapse which history records as the immediate precursor to the ascendency of fascism and war. Are you ready? The cards are on the table for all to see.

    • mary floyd
      May 16, 2019 at 13:44

      You are absolutely correct! Over the past two years, that collapse has taken an abrupt turn toward its demise… the US government has been unveiling its true intentions in the world and to their citizens. They will be met by the Russians and Chinese, along with Iran, on the battlefield…and the US will be the big loser. The delusional neoNazis will go down and they will go down hard.

  8. Jill
    May 15, 2019 at 18:50

    According to Dan Cohen, the govt. of Venezuela and the opposition are initiating a dialogue in Norway as a way to exit the crisis.

  9. karlof1
    May 15, 2019 at 18:28

    And it’s not just International Law that’s being upheld but US Constitutional Law too since the Treaty in force when it was ratified by the US Senate became part of the US Constitution under its Supremacy Clause. That Clause is also why ALL violations of national sovereignty committed by the US Government are also Unconstitutional–ALL OF THEM. In other words, the Imperialism practiced by the US Government goes against its own Fundamental Law and is thus Unconstitutional!

    It’s well past time for every US Citizen regardless of political affiliation to sue the US Government to force it to cease its easily proven Unconstitutional behavior.

    • Sam F
      May 15, 2019 at 21:41

      All very true, although my own long experience proves that would end up as a suit against the US judiciary who are the most corrupt branch, assisted all the way by the DOJ. None of them ever enforce the Bill of Rights or limits on federal powers, unless the rich would benefit.

      Three cheers for the Embassy Protection Collaborative, especially its last four holdouts!

    • mary floyd
      May 16, 2019 at 13:59

      Yes! but even congress can’t get lift to do its duty….because of a corrupt to the bone administration (and republican members of congress) which is refusing to do what the constitution states: recognizing the Article I branch of government….so, the republicans (including the administration) are not only defying congress and threatening sovereign countries with their violent sanctions and/or military engagement, they have turned against the American people (and congress) and their environment, healthcare and finances..
      This is the end of the US as we have known it…(and those who blame trump are wrong…he is only the front man for a huge organization of financiers bent on the domination of the world..trump is, at least, a traitor to his country.)

  10. Karl Pomeroy
    May 15, 2019 at 18:17

    There are two sides to this story. The Maduro government may be recognized by the majority of foreign countries, and even the UN. But the critical question must be: is Maduro recognized by the ordinary people of Venezuela? A tricky question that requires deeper research. Venezuela is not what people think:
    https://quemadoinstitute.org/2019/05/11/venezuela-in-crisis-is-maduro-the-peoples-choice/

    However, even if Maduro were not the legal President of Venezuela, it is not up to the US to staff Venezuela’s embassy. That is up to whatever powers run the Venezuelan government. The US should simply ignore the embassy.

    • May 16, 2019 at 12:28

      The legitimate government of Venezuela, led by Maduro, invited the protectors to stay in the embassy. Obviously, he is recognized by the majority of the Venezuelan people as he was elected by more than 60% in 2018. What the U.S. government needs to do is BUTT OUT.

  11. areweabananarepublic?
    May 15, 2019 at 17:21

    I am in awe of the brave and principled Embassy Protection Collective. Through their communications they have clearly stated that they are seeking to protect the rule of law and especially international law, which protects everyone.

    The US needs more people to stand up for what they (privately) think and know is right, rather than relying on people like the Collective to preserve our democratic republic.

    As for the DC authorities, I am appalled at how they seem to have thumbed the scales for violence and endangerment against the Collective. Shame.

    • geeyp
      May 15, 2019 at 17:59

      The Collective has handled this situation extremely well. Kudos to them! Thank you for handling this for all of us that cannot go there. Rock on, EPC.

  12. Jill
    May 15, 2019 at 17:09

    Jesse Jackson delivered four bags of food and supplies! He did this with the help of others who were there supporting the embassy protectors and the rule of law. He says members of the Rainbow coalition will come to deliver supplies everyday and he will also come back Sunday?

    Meanwhile, Guido’s people were heard bragging about them being former members of the military who now work for the US. You can hear this on Alex’s twitter. Ajamu Baraka said it is clear that the people must be the ones to uphold the law as our govt. has utterly failed in this regard (my paraphrase of his words).

    Y-E-S!

  13. evelync
    May 15, 2019 at 15:37

    Thank you Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright for your courage in standing up for what’s right and for carefully engaging the tools of law and precedent and history to buttress your actions.

    I am reading Daniel Immerwahr’s brilliant historical accounting of American mythology vs a troubling reality “How to Hide an Empire”.

    Whew…..

    Thank you for bringing us up to date on what’s going on at the Venezuelan Embassy in DC.
    Great job by the National Lawyers Guild!!!!!

  14. Peter in Seattle
    May 15, 2019 at 15:31

    I’m thinking that if you’re a member of the US diplomatic or consular corps posted to a country that’s not a complete US lapdog, now would probably be a really good time to think about a change of career, because — to cadge a line from one of the Lethal Weapon movies — “Your diplomatic immunity? It’s just been revoked!”

  15. Alex Cox
    May 15, 2019 at 13:15

    Does Trump’s closure of the Russian consulates in San Francisco, Denver and elsewhere also violate the the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Facilities?

    • Seer
      May 15, 2019 at 15:44

      Not quite the same. With the Russian consulates it’s a matter of closure, whereas with the Venezuelan consulate it’s a matter of dictating who can reside there. If the Trump administration was smart, they are not, they’d have closed it down and then after time had passed stuck in their proxies: not that this would necessarily legal (but, as they say, possession is 9/10 of the law!).

      • David G
        May 15, 2019 at 16:59

        What you are saying the Trump administration would have done if they were smart is in fact what they did do: They dis-accredited the Venezuelan diplomats to empty out the embassy, and thought they would have an uninhabited building for their puppet, pretend “ambassador” to occupy.

        The Collective, with Venezuelan permission, are the ones who have messed with that plan.

      • Padraig
        May 15, 2019 at 17:46

        its Embassy. Seer and stealing bro is just that a crime.
        remember your Reich Wing Commandment[s] “thou shalt not steal” and THou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s embassy”

    • David G
      May 15, 2019 at 17:27

      As a pedantic point, two separate “Vienna Conventions” are involved: diplomatic relations (1961) and consular relations (1963).

      The Russians had some complaints about how the closure of the consulates in San Francisco and Seattle was implemented (I think the Denver consulate is actually still open?), but the problems seem to have been limited to symbolic things like flags.

      But I don’t believe there were any accusations of major violations of immunity by the U.S. in that process, nor in the 2016 closure by the Obama administration of retreats in New York and Maryland used by Russian diplomatic/consular officials and their families.

      (The wisdom of all those closures is another matter, of course.)

      What is going on now with the Venezuelan embassy in D.C. is a whole new frontier of lawlessness – beyond the trashing of international obligations, even plain old local law about how evictions should be handled is being surrendered to the mob, with the cops and Secret Service operating outside comprehensible legal norms.

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