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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/15/19

Venezuela Embassy Protection Collective Defies "No Trespass" Order

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From Consortium News

By Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright

Police outside Venezuela embassy.
Police outside Venezuela embassy.
(Image by (Ann Wright))
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An extraordinary set of events has been unfolding at the Venezuela Embassy in Washington DC, ever since the Embassy Protection Collective began living at the embassy with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela on April 10 to protect it from an illegal takeover by Venezuela's opposition. The actions of the police on the evening of May 13 added a new level of drama.

Since the cutting off of electricity, food and water inside the embassy has not been enough to force the collective to leave. Late Tuesday afternoon, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police handed out a trespassing notice that was printed without letterhead or signature from any U.S. government official.

The notice said that the Trump administration recognizes Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido as the head of the government of Venezuela and that the Guaido-appointed ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, and his appointed ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Gustavo Tarre, were to determine who is allowed into the Embassy. Those not authorized by the ambassadors were to be considered trespassers. Those inside the building were "requested" to depart the building.

The notice appeared to have been written by the Guaido faction, but was posted and read by the DC police as if it were a document from the U.S. government.

The police taped the notice to the doors all around the Embassy and later called in the fire department to cut the lock and chain that had been on the front door of the Embassy since diplomatic relations were broken between Venezuela and the United States on January 23.

Adding to the drama, supporters of both sides began to gather. The pro-Guaido forces, who had erected tents around the perimeter of the embassy and had set up a long-term encampment to oppose the collective inside the building, were ordered to take down their encampment. It seemed as though this was part of moving them from outside the embassy to the inside.

Two hours later, some members of the collective inside the embassy voluntarily left to reduce the load on food and water, and four members refused to obey what they considered an illegal order to vacate the premises. The crowd waited in anticipation of the police going inside and physically removing, and arresting, the remaining collective members. The pro-Guaido forces were jubilant, crying "tic-toc, tic-toc" as they were counting down the minutes before their victory.

In a remarkable turn of events, however, instead of arresting the collective members who remained inside, lengthy discussions ensued between them, their lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and the DC police. The discussion focused on the reason collective members were in the Embassy in the first place -- trying to stop the Trump administration from violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Facilities by turning over the diplomatic premises to a coup government.

Collective members reminded police officers that following illegal orders does not protect them from being charged with criminal actions.

After two hours, instead of arresting the collective, police turned around, locked the door behind them, posted guards and said they would ask their superiors how to handle the situation. The crowd was stunned that the State Department and DC police, after having over a month to organize the eviction, had begun this operation without a full plan to include arrests warrants in case the Collective members did not vacate the building voluntarily.

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Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. 

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