Washington, DC –The last four holdouts in a siege at the Venezuelan Embassy experienced one of the most difficult times of their lives, they said, but survived by talking to each other about how they were feeling and shared their love and respect for one another.
The Embassy Protection Collective was formed when Venezuela’s Consulate in New York was taken over by those opposing President Nicolás Maduro. They did so with the blessing of the Trump administration, which is trying to facilitate a coup in Venezuela to topple the Maduro government and install Juan Guaidó. Embassy Protectors began sleeping in the Embassy of Venezuela in Georgetown, Washington, DC.
Guaidó supporters, often called “the opposition,” arrived at the embassy on April 30 when Guaidó initiated a coup attempt on April 30. They appeared to be trained in military psy-ops techniques, which they employed to harass those inside the embassy and their supporters on the ground. The Secret Service appeared to be aiding them by ignoring assaults on embassy protector supporters, blockades of food deliveries, multiple break-in attempts and 24-hour-a-day noise in the heart of Georgetown.
On May 15, federal agents broke into the embassy, in contravention of international law. The four remaining embassy protectors (of about 50) were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
This week, the four embassy protectors sat down for an extended interview with DC Media Group (video below) to explain their motives for remaining in the embassy, how they lasted so long, and how their efforts can help other social justice movements.
Kevin Zeese, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Adrienne Pine, and David Paul drew on a variety of experiences they gained over their years working in other social justice movements. Their actions may have changed the course of events in Venezuela. They lasted longer than anyone expected and believe they may have put enough pressure on the U.S. government to stop its support of the coup in Venezuela and keep it from reaching fruition.
They were quick to mention that many others took part in the Embassy standoff, and the assistance they received from supporters outside helped them successfully maintain their stay inside despite the State Department shutting off electricity and water and the opposition blockading food and supplies.
They had harsh words for the pro-Guaidó agitators outside the embassy, comparing them to neoliberal fascist dictatorships where human rights abuses are institutionalized. They suffered through daily threats of violence and rough treatment from them but said it made them even more determined to remain in the embassy.
Standing Up to a World Superpower
A quote by Howard Zinn is their motto and advice for other activists: “Go where you are not supposed to go, say what you are not supposed to say and refuse to leave when they tell you to go.”
They wanted to stay another week to get the U.S. administration to enter into a Protection Power Agreement because momentum was beginning to move to their side, Zeese said. It was possible such an agreement would be arranged within a week—there were efforts going on behind the scenes–but they ran out of time. “It was unlikely but possible if we could have developed enough pressure. I think we had a real chance of winning that,” he said.
The federal raid on May 15 ended hope for a Protective Power Agreement. “But the way it turned out, I think that rather than protecting the embassy we’re going to actually end the coup [attempt], and I think this case is the reason why,” said Zeese.
Stay Extended by Rationed Meals and Water Conservation
Dr. Margaret Flowers said they were there in solidarity with the Venezuelan people. They had traveled to Venezuela earlier in the year so they felt a connection to them. “As U.S. citizens our responsibility to impact our government, to stop our government from violating the Vienna Convention which would set a terrible and dangerous precedent that would put all embassies at risk around the world,” she said.
Flowers said the electricity and water shutoff and food blockade at the embassy created conditions similar to those in Venezuela. In effect their experiences inside the embassy were similar to conditions in Venezuela where the coup supporters attacked the power distribution grid and U.S. sanctions caused food and medicine shortages.
They rationed food to two small meals per day and limited water to one liter a day per person. They gave larger portions to the younger activists since they had higher metabolisms. “When [the opposition] stopped the food deliveries, we cut down to two small meals and had a lot of discussions about fasting,” she said.
Flowers said that they adapted to the changing conditions thrown at them. “When they cut off the power we just dealt with it. We went to bed when it was dark and woke up when it got light.”
They activists anticipated they may lose their water after the power was shut off. “When we lost our water, we kinda saw that coming-we filled every container that we could find in the embassy. We were very careful about bathing. We used rainwater for that,” she said. Activists used plastic bag liners for large containers and collected rainwater for bathing.
Another issue they had to overcome was dealing with human waste. “About going to the bathroom, we set up a makeshift bathroom in the garage we could use where it would go directly into the drain,” she said.
Flowers spoke about the economic coercive measures in Venezuela and how they felt a deep solidarity with the Venezuelan people. “Everything they threw at us we knew our people in Venezuela had been experiencing the same thing,” she said. She said they were committed and prepared to stay “for months” if it came down to such a scenario.
Venezuela Could Be Another Honduras
Adrienne Pine, another of the final four remaining activists, worked in Honduras as an anthropologist for 20 years and joined the Embassy Protection Collective because of what she witnessed in Honduras. “In 2009 there was a U.S. supported coup that was carried out against the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras,” Dr. Pine said. She believes the same blueprint is being used by neoliberal supporters of privatization in Venezuela.
The 2009 coup in Honduras was orchestrated by powerful economic elites who were “tied in with the United States’ economic interests, State Department and military,” she said. She described how they overturned the democratically elected government and instituted a neoliberal fascist regime under that sought to privatize and deregulate public infrastructure and strip indigenous people of their land rights.
The regime that came to power in Honduras created a breakdown of its economy, instability, a rise of gangs, and waves of refugees, according to Pine. “Given what I’ve seen in Honduras, and given how horrible the situation is today as a direct result of the U.S. supported coup where we see people leaving by the tens of thousands migrating north, they’re not leaving because of some American Dream–they’re leaving to save their lives,” she said.
Pine compared the history of the U.S.-backed coup in Honduras to the U.S. support for a coup in Venezuela. “Given what I’ve seen in Honduras, the implications for Venezuela are even more dire,” she said.
David Paul, also an activist of many years, saw the Embassy Protection Collective as a way to stand up against the government usurping the power of another democratically elected government.
Paul was known as the “food czar” among the collective for his skill at devising techniques to conserve water and organize food rationing. He worked on a human waste system which was critical for keeping the embassy clean and preventing illness. His knowledge about conservation could have extended their stay by months if federal agents from the Federal Protection Service had not raided the embassy.
Video Interview – Part I
The four activists speak about their personal reasons for staying in the embassy and their backgrounds in social and economic justice movements. Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese explain the political forces prompting Venezuelan diplomats to invite them to the embassy and why international law was on their side. Dr. Adrienne Pine draws a parallel between the 2009 U.S. supported coup in Honduras and the attempted 2018-9 U.S. supported coup attempts in Venezuela.
Video Interview – Part II
Dr. Margaret Flowers describes how they took on roles and shared responsibilities and how knowing they were justified in being there kept up their courage. They worked as a team and trusted supporters to make the right decisions. David Paul worked on food and water logistics. They beat opposition hatred and abuse by showing love and respect for each other. This is just one chapter in a long term campaign, says Kevin Zeese.
Video Interview – Part III
They explain why U.S. mainstream media blacked out the Venezuelan embassy story or created false reporting about it. Dr. Adrienne Pine explains why mainstream media reports a corporate narrative while suppressing messages beneficial to people. They relate the events of the night federal agents raided the embassy and how they persuaded the agents to leave. They also preview the next chapters in the anti-war movement.