By MARTY GOODMAN
“We denounce these arrests, as the people inside were there with our permission, and we consider it a violation of the Vienna Conventions” — Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Ron.
I was in Washington, D.C., most of the time between May 7 to May 19 to support the Venezuela solidarity activists of the “Embassy Protectors Collective.” They were staying inside the embassy at the invitation of the elected government, defending the sovereignty of the Venezuelan Embassy and the Venezuelan people. The embassy was under siege by a CIA-backed, fake president, Juan Guaido, whose thugs sought a take-over of the embassy.
The Trump administration is threatening yet another war for oil in Venezuela, which possess the world’s largest reserves of oil. Thus far, a U.S. embargo, blockade and sanctions has killed some 40,000 Venezuelans, according to a recent study co-authored by noted economist Jeffry Sachs.
Outside of the embassy were daily protests against U.S. intervention. Surrounding the embassy were cops and those with bullet-proof vests with Secret Service written on it, who oversaw the seeming stand-off between anti-imperialist and pro-coup picketers. But, in reality, the cops and Secret Service worked hand-in-glove with coup supporters.
On May 16, the four remaining Embassy Protectors were arrested on misdemeanor charges of “interference”—Kevin Zeese, Margaret Flowers, Adrienne Pine and David Paul. The four were released the next morning without bail. Their first court appearance was that morning, which is now set to reconvene June 12.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, their attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said, “Instead of leaving the government of Venezuela up to the people of Venezuela, you now have the U.S. government deciding for the people of Venezuela who their leadership will be, and handing over an embassy compound to their designated representative.” She added, “If people don’t stand up, they are complicit.”
Socialist Action interviewed two of the embassy protectors, Martha Allen, who spent a month inside the Venezuelan Embassy, and Julie Leak, who spent two weeks inside. I started by asking them why they put themselves on the line for Venezuela given the hostility of the Trump administration and his pro-coup thugs and then let them relate their experiences to me.
Martha Allen: “The Venezuelan government was an elected government and I do not want the U.S. having our military overthrow a Latin American government or anywhere around the world. The U.S. has been doing that forever and it needs to stop!
“Medea Benjamin [of Code Pink] had stayed at the embassy and called on others to protect it and the Embassy Protection Collective was formed. The next day [April 11], I slept at the embassy for the first time.”
Julie Leak: “Initially, anger, and of course, disappointment, but more than ever in solidarity with people of Venezuela. When I read and heard about people at high altitudes without water and what they must endure it is heartbreaking. We must end these illegal sanctions. The blockade prevents them from securing equipment from abroad to repair their pumping stations. It is the sanctions and the fact that the U.S. prevents them from doing business with other countries who want to help them.
“On April 25, at New York’s People’s Forum, Jorge Arreaza, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela spoke to a packed audience. Members of the Embassy Protection Collective joined us via Skype. The next morning on WBAI [radio], Medea Benjamin invited people to come join the Collective and become a part of history.
“There was an event for Mumia Abu-Jamal in Philadelphia on April 27, so it was convenient for me to leave there and go to the embassy for a day or so to become a part of history—little did I know how long I would be there and just how historical it would be.”
Martha Allen: “Around the time of the failed coup the opposition became more violent and taking control over the space around the embassy. Blaring horns into our ears of our protectors standing along the wall for hours. I had to hold my ears because it was so loud. The protectors had laser lights shone in their eyes.”
Socialist Action: I heard about racist remarks. Did you hear any?
Martha Allen: “Yes, quite a few and misogynistic ones also. I would avoid looking at them but since I was inside I would look across at our people because looking at the coup people’s faces was creepy and full of hate. Eventually, it became so abusive that we could not hold the space around the embassy. We were non-violent and they were willing to do anything.
“When the first coup happened things escalated tremendously, we thought that the raid would happen. We were very happy for every day that passed and we were still there and the embassy was protected. We had big rallies during the day when the Secret Service and the pro-coup people went around the back.”
“I was seeing all of these Secret Service people and all these opposition people and what they were saying was that they wanted to let these people in. Then they said that the only people that would be let in were those with Venezuelan passports. This doesn’t make any sense because the embassy couldn’t do any services. This was not an operating embassy. They were not invited in by the government in power. That was their way to get the opposition in and get us out. It didn’t work because we blocked the door so they couldn’t come in, but that also meant that our people couldn’t come in.”
“The next time we thought it could happen was when Carlos Vecchio [Guaido’s so-called U.S. ambassador] was going to give a talk to people right in front of the embassy. We thought that he would say ‘I want you out of my embassy’ and that that would be the time that the Secret Service would let him in and get us out.
“In anticipation we loaded up our two cars with our laptops, overnight bags, etc., everything we didn’t want the police to have. It was challenging to get the cars out but at that point they weren’t guarding the outside 24 hrs. That meant that we no longer had our change of underwear, our clothes and many other things. We made do with what we had.”
“We would have some successes at getting some food in. Early on, we could see with the numbers that we had that we had to scale down to two very small meals a day.”
Julie Leak: I arrived Saturday night, April 27. It was just like a big house—one where you were invited. It was cool to wake up, go to breakfast and have so many people with interesting discussions going on. As a new face, I was asked where I was from, how I decided to come, etc. As I explained how I came over from a Mumia Abu-Jamal event in Philly, not one single person asked me who he was! Wow, I was with my people!”
Martha Allen: “Most of the time they [cops, Secret Service] pretended that they were not interfering, but they were letting the opposition do all the dirty work.
“We had food that could last quite a while. What made it difficult we had made more people than we needed to make a case in court. We had lost the water but we anticipated this. But when they turned the power off and when they turned off the water some people had to leave. When food and water couldn’t come in we decided to let volunteers go. We had a core of people.”
SA: “Did Trump declare that no food could be delivered?”
Martha Allen: “No, because they allowed the opposition to make it impossible for us to get anything in by controlling the whole area around the embassy. They would surround our people and stamp on their feet and say, ‘arrest them!’ and then the Secret Service would arrest them. They surrounded [Vets for Peace President] Gerry Condon, who was holding a cucumber, and the Secret Service grabbed him and slammed him to the ground and arrested him. He hadn’t even attempted to throw it!
“Before that Ariele was arrested for throwing a baguette, for ‘throwing a missile.’ Anything that involved bringing food they’d say ‘throwing a missile.’ Like when Gene tried to bring us toothbrushes, they attacked him violently. I saw a Secret Service guy carrying a box of food, and I thought he was going to bring it to our people, but he took it across the street to a dumpster (I took video). In five minutes a truck picks up all the trash. I saw it with my own eyes, the Secret Service stole our food and threw it out.”
Julie Leak: “For the next 12 days I did not leave the building but had a bird’s eye view from the windows of the embassy of these people in action with my phone camera to document it. May 1 was a bit scary for me as I had volunteered to take the security shift beginning at 11 p.m.
“The opposition actually tried to break down the front door. I called David, our security coordinator. I did not want to be a wimp as I knew there were two chain locks and a bicycle lock on the front door but I was totally afraid (heart racing, leg jumping) that somehow they might break the wall. Never in my life have I been this afraid. I could hear them outside and did not know how many there were, and the wall was shaking.”
Julie Leak: “These right-wing extremists and the U.S. Secret Service halted entry into the building and made it difficult to leave. They occupied the exterior of the embassy, harassing protectors both inside and outside with loud noise makers, strobe lights, vile, and insulting remarks to us. It was clear the Secret Service was on their side and not ours.
“There were four break-ins and yet no arrests. They did nothing to protect us, nor the embassy, even though that was their job. They did nothing to stop them from breaking in, just merely escorted the intruders out of the building. I have a picture of the second intruder who after he was escorted out draped a Venezuelan flag around himself and paraded around the building like a celebrity.”
“This continued for several days and culminated with our electricity being turned off on the evening of May 8 and then the water on May 11. While it had become my intention to stay until the end, this new set of circumstances required careful consideration by the Collective. We had stored water for such an emergency but it was decided that some of us would leave in order to conserve resources. That being the case, I left on Mother’s Day, May 12.
“Needless to say it was an unforgettable experience that will be with me forever. I will forever remember the chants, laughter, and most of all the commitment and camaraderie. In addition, there were the protectors outside (day and night) no matter the weather who were there to support the protectors inside—participants from many organizations coming together. Amazing coordination, planning, and teamwork. An amazing experience.”
Martha Allen: “I was inspired by how all of these diverse people, most of them who didn’t know each other, worked together under these extreme conditions. We made food, made security, they brought their skills and just plugged in were they could. That was truly inspiring.”
Julie Leak: “We must revive the antiwar movement of earlier years. Already, plans are being made to make the most of the momentum we have now. A mass mobilization (International Day of Peace) is being planned for Sept. 21 at the UN in New York City. Please watch for details, mark your calendar and come!”