Washington, DC. The seige at the Venezuelan Embassy continued into its eighth day on Tuesday as pro-Juan Guaidó opposition built human chains to blockade food, water, and medicine. Inside the Embassy, the Protection Collective hunkered down for what may be a long term seige as food supplies dwindle and medications begin to run out. Meanwhile embassy supporters outside, the press, and observers are having a tough go of it as opposition block and harass them on the sidewalks around the five story building in Georgetown.
The siege has breached nighttime quiet and interrupted residents’ routines on 30th Street where monthly apartment rents start in the $3500s. The quaint Georgetown neighborhood has found itself caught up in Venezuela’s political strife as the embassy drama appears to have no end in sight.
The standoff began when Venezuelan diplomats were forced to leave the country two weeks ago. The Trump administration supported Juan Guaidó’s Mayday coup attempt in Caracas but Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro caught wind of it first which forced Guaido to move it up a day. Not fully prepared, the coup failed.
At the same time on Tuesday, as dramatic events unfolded in Caracas, pro-Juan Guaidó supporters surrounded the Venezuelan Embassy in the U.S. to attempt a takeover. It too failed as the activists blocked their efforts at the doors and windows.
Secret Service stood by watching as tensions escalated between the groups. As pro-Juan Guaidó coup supporters attempted to break down doors and drill through walls to enter the embassy, activists barricaded themselves inside. The activists argued they were invited to stand in for diplomats and had the blessing of the elected Venezuela government. The pro-Juan Guaidó coup supporters therefore had no legal standing to go inside.
The blockade has now morphed into a seige with embassy protectors inside, opposition, and embassy supporters outside and locked in a battle using light and sound as instruments in the conflict. There have been dramatic daily skirmishes and arrests as the battle for the embassy drags on.
Pro-Juan Guaido supporters aim barrages of bullhorns set to alarm mode, loud speakers blaring salsa, and strobe flashlights projected into embassy windows above. And from the windows, pro-Nicolás Maduro supporters placed a low-powered speaker in a window and played “We Are Still Here,” which they’ve adopted as their theme song, and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Under the windows they have hung small signs reading “no coup” and “keep Venezuela free.” The giant banners they hung in mid-April have sagged after several days of heavy rain.
Inside the embassy, pro-Nicolás Maduro “Embassy Protectors” as they call themselves, remain closed in and in control of the large brick building. But their rations may run out any day now. The embassy seige stands as a metaphor of the sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Venezuela, which has reportedly contributed to widespread food shortages, hyperinflation, and over three million refugees worldwide. A United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures warned of blanket starvation due to U.S. sanctions.
Outside the Venezuelan Embassy, 200 or so pro-Juan Guaidó opposition persons control the sidewalk and surrounding ground. They’ve nearly completely covered the outside building walls with posters criticizing President Nicolás Maduro and condemning the activists inside.
To cross the street and attempt to the interview pro-Juan Guaido opposition is to invite certain wrath. The Juan Guaidó coup supporters follow, surround, taunt, harass, shine strobe lights in eyes, and blare bullhorns in ears, as this reporter attempted to approach them for their story.
Across the street supporters of the Embassy Protectors are willing to tell their story, although they are still being harassed by the opposition with strobe flashlights shining in their faces from the front of the embassy across the street.
Pro-Juan Guaidó coup supporters’ tactics of denying food and medicine to embassy protectors ironically reinforces similar tactics the U.S. government has used against their own country. But oddly they fault the legitimate President Nicolás Maduro for food and medicine shortages the U.S. has caused.
Passions boil over between Embassy Protection supporters and pro-coup supporters on the sidewalk, prompting skirmishes and a dozen arrests so far. Harassment, mob intimidation tactics, and noise from pro-Juan Guaidó coup supporters goes on throughout the day and escalates when night falls, even past the 10:00 pm noise ordnance. Secret Service Agents stand by observing and doing nothing about it.
Secret Service Agents have jurisdiction of the sidewalk where pro-Juan Guaidó opposition stage while DC Metropolitan Police have jurisdiction of the sidewalk across the street where Embassy Protection supporters remain.
Secret Service removed pro-Juan Guaidó opposition off the front steps of the embassy with two officers now guarding it, which is an improvement from Friday night, when opposition hammered and banged on embassy doors late into the night, in an apparent attempt to break in. Secret Service Agents were also present during attempts to break in — without any intervention.
But an attorney representing the Embassy Protectors inside the building warned the State Department that allowing removal of the embassy “guests” was a breach of international law. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney with the asserted the rights of Embassy Protectors to be there under provisions of Article 22 of the Vienna Convention. “Yesterday, instead of enforcing the law, officers present refused to take action against persons engaging in unlawful actions against the mission and against other persons who are lawfully present. The persons lawfully present inside the building are U.S. peace activists, there as guests at the invitation of the mission staff and of the lawful owners of the premises, and have been defending and upholding the Vienna Convention and international law,” she wrote.
The unfolding drama pits the guest activists who are in a sense acting as proxies for the departed diplomats and the rightfully elected Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, against right-wing coup supporters acting as proxies for pro-coup Juan Guaidó and supported by the Trump administration. The activists stay because they know international law is on their side. The pro-coup supporters believe they’re entitled to enter the embassy because they feel Juan Guaidó should be President, though he was not elected. Both his coup attempts have failed.
Had it not been for the activists’ persistence the embassy would have certainly been taken over by Juan Guaidó coup supporters. They would have an embassy but no legal authority to issue visas, passports, or any other documents of business.
The activists say that since they have lasted this long it is a victory in itself. Local activists have never done anything like this before. And for the first time local activist groups have delayed or stopped altogether U.S. foreign policy supporting the overthrow of another government.
Pro-Guido coup Supporters Use Mob Tactics To Bully And Harass Journalists
Several members of the press attempted to report the pro-Juan Guaido coup supporters but were surrounded, harassed, shouted at, and their cameras were blocked or strobe lights were directed into their lens to prevent recording. This has repeatedly occurred on the public sidewalk, not on the Embassy grounds proper. Telesur, reporters, a Mint Press News videographer, and two DC Media Group journalists were subjected to this treatment.
The Secret Service, which falls under jurisdiction of the State Department, which in turn gets its directives from the Trump administration, stood nearby, refusing to intervene, though at any other embassy any blockade or harassment would result in arrest.
In the back of the embassy a cordon of a dozen Secret Service Agents and police with Federal Agent markings on their uniforms, stood impassively as pro-Juan Guaido opposition harassed and blocked press personnel reporting on the embassy siege.
Inside, the Venezuelan Embassy, Protectors report high spirits and have celebrated their seventh day under seige. They danced to the salsa music playing in the street below and put brave faces on a difficult situation. Food supplies have nearly run out so they have rationed them which may keep them there another few days.
Embassy Protectors may suffer from effects of post traumatic stress as a result of the ordeal once they leave the embassy but that may be weeks from now.
The Trump administration has been frustrated by both coup attempts it supported to install self-described leader Juan Guaidó. The failure of Juan Guaidó’s supporters to seize the Venezuelan Embassy has led to frustration and fueled aggression on the street outside, say the activists.
If Trump officials and the Secret Service were to allow pro-coup supporters to takeover the embassy, what message would they be sending to other governments concerning embassy security?
Never before has a group of American activists blocked their own government’s support of a takeover attempt of a foreign embassy owned by a democratically elected government. The actions taken by the activists at the Venezuelan Embassy are likely to be remembered for decades to come as the pivotal moment when Americans forced a delay or stopped altogether their own government from overthrowing another government. It is certain to be remembered as an historic moment in activist circles for decades to come.
Update: On Tuesday night a group of embassy supporters rushed the pro-Juan Guaido siege line and were able to deliver limited food supplies to those inside who lowered a rope down to them..