by Alexander Rubinstein and Wyatt Reed
A group of activists banding together as the “Embassy Protection Collective,” in defense of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, defied orders by the U.S. government to vacate the premises by the 25th of April. Later in the morning, the Trump administration’s special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, condemned the activists, saying that they would “have to leave.”
The activists, Abrams argues, are “clearly breaking the law.”
In interviews with MintPress News, Embassy Collective protesters argued the opposite: that an invasion of the Venezuelan Embassy by U.S. authorities would be illegal under international law as defined by Article 22 of the Vienna Convention. The article states:
Article 22 confirms the inviolability of mission premises – barring any right of entry by law enforcement officers of the receiving State and imposing on the receiving State a special duty to protect the premises against intrusion, damage, disturbance of the peace or infringement of dignity. Even in response to abuse of this inviolability or emergency, the premises may not be entered without the consent of the head of mission.”
“Today is the last day that Venezuelan diplomats in the United States have to leave the country,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and member of the Embassy Protection Collective, told MintPress News. “There were a few diplomats left that work with the Organization of American States (OAS) and today they said they had to be out. So tomorrow there are no diplomats left in the embassy, which opens the way for the Guaido folks to come in.”
After the OAS recognized the representatives of Venezuela’s self-appointed president, Juan Guaido, in violation of its own charter, the State Department issued the Venezuelan diplomats a two-week ultimatum to vacate the embassy.
Meanwhile, the elected government of Venezuela has turned over the keys to the activists in hopes they may be able to safeguard the building. For the past two weeks, members of the collective have been protecting the building.
Speaking via live stream, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza repeatedly thanked the group:
We are very honored because you are protecting the Venezuelan territory… And please, keep on doing it. It’s important, it’s really important for the Venezuelan people. You are an example to us, to all the Venezuelan people. You are an example to the American people as well.”
“How Dare You!?”
Thursday morning, Embassy Protection Collective activists interrupted an address by Elliot Abrams, Trump’s point man for regime change in Venezuela, hosted by the Atlantic Council. The think tank is among the most powerful foreign policy influence shops in Washington and lobbies on behalf of NATO, Gulf State monarchies, and oil conglomerates.
Bearing a sign reading “No coup in Venezuela,” CODEPINK activist Ariel Elyse Gold shouted over Abrams as he attempted to speak.
Speaking to MintPress immediately after she was removed by security from the premises, Gold said:
Elliot Abrams is a war criminal and responsible for the destabilization of entire regions.
I spoke out while he was addressing the Atlantic Council and told him: ‘How dare you orchestrate a coup in Venezuela? How dare you impose sanctions that harm the people?’
— Helena Villar (@HelenaVillarRT) April 25, 2019
“My government has no right to overthrow the government of another country. This is undermining the basic principle of democracy. Maduro was elected by 6 million people in Venezuela. Whether anybody likes Maduro or not, we need to respect the election.”
“We will not go out easily”
Medea Benjamin, one of the lead organizers of the movement to protect the embassy, explained the motivations of the collective to MintPress News, saying they are “people who came together to say we cannot allow the fake, illegal quote ‘government’ of Juan Guaido to come in and take over this embassy.” She added:
You can’t have an international community that doesn’t recognize real governments, that starts creating parallel governments, fake governments, and concedes them to take over embassies. It just can’t work like that. It’s against international law. So we’re the citizens that are protecting this embassy against a takeover that is part of a coup that is orchestrated by our government to get rid of a government that it doesn’t like in Venezuela.”
Benjamin explained how the U.S. demand that all Venezuelan diplomats leave the country by April 24th was a move designed to open the embassy to occupation by opposition squatters. In response, the collective has been living and working in the embassy 24/7 and hosting teach-ins and concerts every evening. They aim to hold the space for as long as possible, she says –“and we will not go out easily.”
After reaching out to the Venezuelan government in late March, Benjamin says they were invited to hold the space when the Venezuelans realized the U.S. government was “egging on” the opposition to take it. They gave the collective keys to the building and, she says, their full support.
Though many embassy protectors admire the accomplishments of socialist Venezuela, Benjamin says they aren’t there just to show support for the Venezuelan government. Instead, they want to reject another coup and the attempted social engineering of their leaders. She says the failure by coup plotters to turn the Venezuelan military against the government has done little to stop their U.S. handlers from plotting further aggression.
She notes the hypocrisy of a U.S. establishment that has spent the past few years hyper-fixating on a supposed Russian interference threat now “overtly trying to overthrow governments.” Benjamin was adamant that international law was on the side of the collective even if the Trump administration “doesn’t care” about such formalities.
“Now they have a place in their society”
Max Blumenthal, founder of the Grayzone, visited Caracas in February and described to MintPress News a profound disconnect between Western perceptions of Venezuela and the reality on the ground.
I was prepared to see something, to see an economic collapse, to even see a humanitarian crisis. And at least in Caracas, I didn’t see anything approaching that… it wasn’t a war situation. It wasn’t a conflict zone.”
Amidst ongoing economic warfare, life in Venezuela continues with relative normalcy, with residents taking full advantage of the free public gyms, salsa nights, and basketball courts, Blumenthal observed.
He described a “sort of utopian” experience visiting a public housing development in Caracas. It’s one of many such projects that comprise 2,500,000 total housing units provided by the socialist government to working Venezuelans free of charge, Blumenthal told MintPress.
He recounted that Venezuelan journalists he met with explained that they never could have become reporters without the socialist government, as prior to the Bolivarian revolution dark-skinned people weren’t allowed to go to college. “Now they have a place in their society.”
By contrast, Blumenthal says the opposition strongholds were like a “bubble of affluence.” Despite repeated accusations of a supposed humanitarian crisis, the largely white, wealthy opposition is still enjoying yoga classes and sushi dinners. “They seem very comfortable, but at the same time feigning this humanitarian crisis.”
Still, Blumenthal notes that there are of course real economic problems, but stresses the many ways they’re exacerbated by capitalist forces and “speculation.”
Recently, the Grayzone exposed an off-the-record meeting in which 40-odd coup plotters discussed their plans for a military attack on Venezuela. Attendees included representatives from the U.S. State Department, the former commander of the United States Southern Command, Colombian diplomats, and emissaries of Brazil’s fascist government.
With that context, their plan to invade the Venezuelan Embassy is par for the course, Blumenthal argued.
As the property was purchased by the Venezuelan government, anyone occupying it without permission would be squatting, he said, joking that it is perhaps for that reason that “Juan Guaidó says he has so much in common with the Israeli government– because they like squatting on other people’s property.”
“Don’t you think the Iraqis should design the new Iraqi flag?”
John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who blew the whistle on the agency’s torture program, was also on hand Wednesday to give a talk on ‘an insider’s persective on CIA coups.’ Afterwards, he spoke exclusively to MintPress News, saying that he also came to “show support for the sanctity of the Venezuelan Embassy.” It’s a world he’s intimately familiar with; as the executive assistant to the CIA’s deputy director for operations, Kiriakou had access to “literally everything that the CIA was doing around the world operationally.” After signing a number of secrecy agreements, he was finally informed what the job he’d agreed to was: “to assist in the overthrow of the Iraqi government.”
He describes a specific intelligence office that oversees CIA coup operations — one so shrouded in secrecy that even its name is classified. Indeed, should Kiriakou reveal it, he would risk being sent back to prison for once again blowing the whistle on the agency.
Kiriakou told MintPress that whenever a CIA agent expresses a desire to overthrow a government, the office creates a plan that is generally rubber-stamped by the Department of Justice and approved by the National Security Council. Once the president signs off, Kiriakou says the officer is given a blank check to carry out their sabotage and subterfuge.
He goes on to describe an agency so arrogant that even before it finished destroying Iraq, when he once walked into the office of a senior officer in the unnamed coup department, that officer had already set about designing the new flag with colored markers. “Don’t you think the Iraqis should design the new Iraqi flag?” Kiriakou asked. The officer paused. “No.”
The depth of their imperial hubris is matched by the depth of their pockets, Kiriakou argued:
Their budgets are secret. Nobody knows what the CIA budget is. It’s been a secret since the founding of the CIA…. It’s just impossible to know what the CIA has to spend. I can tell you that it’s a lot.”
Kiriakou continued, “We’ve got this unwritten policy that if we don’t like the politics of a foreign leader, we just take him out and we put in our own guy.” It’s a policy that he says operates independently of long-term U.S. interests or human-rights considerations.
Do the countries targeted by the CIA have something in common? “Natural resources,” he says. “It’s always been frowned up to say ‘we went into Kuwait for the oil. We went into Iraq for the oil. We went into Libya for the oil.’ But we did!”
Kiriakou recounted the words of a friend of his in Kuwait, who asked him, if the country “had gravel instead of oil, do you think we would have given two shits about these people?”
“Venezuela has oil, and Iran has oil, and Afghanistan has rare-earth metals, and we’re in all of those countries as well,” Kiriakou noted.
“If you don’t bow down to us… we will take your embassy”
This implicit threat to anyone who refuses to toe the State Department line is clear to Kevin Zeese as well. The peace activist, lawyer and co-director of Popular Resistance was similarly disturbed by the U.S. government’s threats to invade the sovereign territory of Venezuela:
If they do this tomorrow, it will send a message to the world that no embassy is safe in the United States… it’s a message that ‘if you don’t bow down to us, do what we tell you, put in the government that we’d like, we will take your embassy.’”
Though he’s skeptical that any international court could enforce a ruling against the U.S., Zeese insists that these actions render the U.S. a “renegade nation” in the eyes of the public and the international community.
These rogue, aggressive actions characterize a nation whose once-hegemonic economic and military influence is waning, but which still has little trouble convincing its European and Latin American partners to go along with its imperialist agenda. “They all want to steal Venezuela’s wealth, and Venezuela’s very wealthy,” Zeese says. Aside from the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela also boasts the largest gold and diamond reserves, the fifth largest gas reserves, and many other extremely valuable mineral deposits, Zeese said.
For its own sake, Zeese says, he seriously hopes the U.S. ruling class will reject the temptation to bring them under their control. Given the Chinese and Russian support for Venezuela, and a U.S. military still reeling from its failures in Iraq, he argues that an invasion of the Bolivarian Republic could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. “The U.S. empire will be crumbling.”
MintPress News will continue to keep a reporter at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. in anticipation of a raid by U.S. authorities.
Feature photo | CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin sits for an interview in the shuttered Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, April 24, 2019. Patrick Semansky | AP
Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.