Showdown at the Venezuelan Embassy: Federal Authorities Back Down After Threatening to Evict Peace Activists Inside
Above photo by Alex Rubinstein
This article describes a tense showdown and small victory that took place Monday evening between the embassy protectors and federal authorities, and concludes with URGENT ACTIONS people can take to resolve this dispute and stop a US-orchestrated coup.
(Writing on Day 36 of the campaign to prevent a US-sponsored coup by protecting the Venezuelan Embassy from illegal takeover.)
Events reached a climax this Monday, as well as a new level of absurdity, when for the first time, federal authorities cut the locks and opened the embassy doors to tell us we were being evicted, based solely on orders from a fictional Venezuelan ambassador named Carlos Vecchio. (Vecchio is a member of the tiny, right-wing Popular Will Party in Venezuela, and is living in the US in exile out of fear of arrest in Venezuela for his role in organizing violent protests that resulted in over 100 deaths.)
It began around 5 or 5:30pm when the DC Metropolitan Police, along with federal authorities, began negotiating our eviction and possible arrest with our lawyer, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, outside the embassy. They presented her with an order, not signed by any US agency (or any person for that matter) on plain paper without even a letterhead, saying that we were trespassing in the building and were required to leave.
“Required by whom,” Mara asked, and maintained that we were in the embassy legally, with the permission of the elected Venezuelan government, and that we were not violating any laws.
The police refused to allow her to talk to us, but they did allow her to watch from the doorway when around 7PM, the authorities cut the chains and bike lock placed on the embassy’s front doors by the legitimate embassy staff back when diplomatic relations were severed.
When the authorities opened the door, four of us were right there in the lobby (the authors of this report, along with Adrian Pine and David Paul), and we immediately began chanting, “We are here legally! You are breaking international law!”
There were US Marshalls present, members of Federal Protective Services, and a spokesperson from the State Department. They began to read the illegal eviction order, and as soon as they mentioned Vecchio’s name, we interrupted and told them it was an illegal order, that a fictional ambassador from a non-governmental group of coup plotters cannot give legal orders regarding the legitimate Venezuelan embassy.
They then asked us if we would leave voluntarily. Each of us, in turn, said “no.” We then attempted to open a dialogue with them, to let them know we are here legally, and that the only way we would leave voluntarily is if presented with a mutual Protecting Power Agreement (PPA), signed between the US and Venezuela guaranteeing the protection of both this embassy and the corresponding, vacant US embassy in Caracas. Such PPAs are historically common when diplomatic relations break down between two countries. In that even, neutral third countries agree to maintain staff at each respective embassy, protecting it until relations can be reestablished.
They listened. Then the State Department spokesperson simply repeated, “Will you leave voluntarily?”
Again we said no. We told them that entering the embassy was in the violation of the Vienna convention, and that further action could set a precedent that would put all embassies around the world at risk, including US embassies and their personnel.
They let us continue speaking.
We explained to them that removing us and taking over the embassy would also escalate the conflict between Venezuela and the United States, and that this could lead to a military conflict, creating chaos in the region and resulting in many lost lives, including that of US soldiers. “We do not want Latin America to turn into another middle east,” we said. “This would be a quagmire and would cost the US trillions of dollars. And with Russia and China allied with Venezuela, it could potentially lead to a global conflict. So be very careful. Your actions right now are important. If you cross this threshold, your name could very well go down in history as the officers who violated international law and started World War III.”
They glanced back and forth at each other with seeming concern over what they were hearing.
But the spokesperson simply repeated, “will you leave voluntarily?”
Again we said no. We told them, “Listen. The coup plotters cut off our power. They cut off our water. The secret service outside has allowed these terrorists to surround us, to assault us, to prevent food and water from getting inside. They have tried all this on us, and we are still here. If this hasn’t forced us to leave, what do you think will? Please understand we are staying until a mutual PPA is reached between the two countries. Either that or you will have to carry us out on stretchers.”
We continued for quite some time with similar themes about the Vienna convention, and that we were concerned about the personnel in US embassies around the world. We said we hoped the State Department shared our concerns. We told them that the precedent set by violating the Vienna convention would embarrass President Trump and become his legacy. We told them that John Bolton was already making a fool of Trump by misjudging the situation in Venezuela, that the people of Venezuela will not give up their independence or their sovereignty, and that they want peace with the United States. We told them there’s no reason for the US to be enemies with Venezuela, but that if they—right here and right now—cross this threshold by removing us, they could set in motion something they might regret.”
Silence. More glances. Then once again, “will you leave voluntarily?”
We continued, presenting them with an alternative. “Why violate international law,” we asked them? “International law already provides a peaceful resolution to this conflict through what are known as mutual Protective Power Agreements, or PPAs, which have been standard diplomacy since the 1870s.” We educated them that there are currently 29 PPAs in place around the world. “When there’s a peaceful path already established,” we said, “it will be especially bad for your careers and reputations if you violate international law in such a major way that could lead to war.”
Silence this time.
For good measure we added, “Following an illegal order is no defense to criminal prosecution. So we suggest you close the door, go back to your superiors, and discuss with them what we’ve just told you.”
The officer who was acting as a spokesperson left. Another officer took his place.
“Will you leave voluntarily?” he asked us.
We explained the same things to this new officer. Ten minutes later the first officer returned. We told them both that our position hadn’t changed, that we will leave voluntarily only when presented with a mutual PPA.
The officers thought for a moment. Then they informed us that they were going to close the door behind secure it. They said they would station a federal Marshall outside the door.
We told them, “make sure the entire embassy compound is under police protection because these violent terrorists have broken in three times and have yet to be prosecuted.” He replied that they would, but added that if we changed our mind, all we had to do was knock on the front door and they would let us leave peacefully.” They then shut the door and placed plastic zip ties–the same ones typically used for handcuffs– around the handles of the door.
Mara, our attorney, walked the embassy compound with the police to ensure it was fully protected. It was.
The secret service has been removed from duty, replaced with DC Metro police and officers of Federal Protective Services, which is part of DHS. Finally, for the first time, Federal authorities are now protecting the embassy—and us—from the terrorists who have been attacking us.
Monday and Tuesday night we slept peacefully for the first time in weeks.
What Social Movements Around the World Should Do
We urge social movements around the world to show their solidarity with the Embassy Protection Collective by going to US embassies to demand respect for the Vienna convention and the rule of law, and to urge the US and Venezuela to sign a mutual Protecting Power Agreement (PPA).
Furthermore, people in the United States need to become the media, because despite this being a truly unique event in US history where US citizens have gone into a foreign embassy in DC to prevent a US-orchestrated coup, the corporate media has barely covered the story.
Lastly, people should contact their members of congress. Tell them to support a mutual Protecting Power Agreement, or PPA, the usual procedure for protecting embassies when diplomatic relations break down.
Time is of the essence. Resolution of this conflict should not be a unilateral decision by John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and Mike Pompeo. It’s up to social movements and people everywhere to elevate this issue to international dialogue.