Five weeks ago, occupiers from CodePink, Veterans for Peace, Popular Resistance and others, who came together under the umbrella of the Embassy Protection Cooperative, entered Venezuela’s embassy in Washington D.C.’s upscale Georgetown neighborhood at the invitation of that country’s government. At first, the activists simply established a presence at night to prevent a takeover of the building amid a war of words between American leaders and the Maduro government.
Although their numbers have dwindled substantially due to circumstances we’ll discuss further on, activists have remained in the embassy peacefully in the weeks since, claiming to act as placeholders for the government of Venezuela after diplomatic personnel left the five story facility when their visas to stay in the United States expired.
The increasing use of occupations, both short and long term, as a tactic is a smart, if sometimes risky one, whether it’s being used to demand action in terms of the climate and biodiversity crises as occurred in the U.K. last month, or to ensure that long established international laws are not violated by occupying the Venezualan Embassy in D.C., an effort which pardoned war criminal Elliot Abrams, the U.S. envoy to the country, incorrectly declared ‘illegal’.
Not only the United States, but most of its close allies have unilaterally decided that the government of Venezuela is illegitimate and have insisted that the previously unknown Juan Guaido, the head of the country’s National Assembly, is now the interim president of the country, despite the Maduro government still being recognized by the United Nations.
As several commentators have noted, this is the equivalent of Russia, China and other rivals to Western powers declaring that they now recognize Nancy Pelosi as the president of the United States.
The Trudeau government here in Canada released a statement of support for the Venezuelan opposition after the PM spoke to Guaido in early February saying, “The prime minister commended Juan Guaido for his courage and leadership in helping to return democracy to Venezuela and offered Canada’s continued support.”
Such endorsements might have helped to lead to yet another attempted coup in the country on Tuesday, April 30th, which quickly unraveled. Protesters in the U.S., most of them presumably Venezuelan American, surrounded the Georgetown embassy demanding that the occupiers leave and the building be handed over to Carlos Vecchio, picked by the Venezuelan opposition as their U.S. ambassador. It should be noted that Vecchio and other representatives of the Venezuela’s right-wing opposition refused to participate in the country’s last presidential election, leading to a Maduro landslide that western powers now insist was somehow fraudulent.
While at the height of the occupation there were at least 50 people coming and going to and from the building each day, after the arrival of the opposition protesters, who have surrounded the embassy and closed off access to it, there are reportedly just 4 occupiers left inside the facility, whose electricity and water have been cut off and who are not being allowed to receive food from outside.
It appears that capital police, and possibly even the Secret Service, which is tasked with providing security to embassies, are wittingly or unwittingly siding with the opposition protesters, as several activists have been criminally charged for trying to throw food to those still inside the building.
In one case the Thursday before last, Ariel Gold, CodePink’s co-director, was tackled by an opposition protester while throwing food to the occupiers and both she and the person who assaulted her were arrested by police.
“Every time we’ve tried to bring food in, we have been physically attacked by the opposition,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the same antiwar organization told the New York Times on May 9t.
As in much of Latin America, racism and sexism have been enforced by elites in Venezuela since the very beginning and, unfortunately, these longstanding attitudes have been on display outside of the country’s Georgetown embassy. As one embassy protector of Nicaraguan descent told Mintpress News, “One of the Venezuelan opposition protesters was calling me and other embassy protectors racial slurs. He called me ‘India,’ which, for context, is a very derogatory term for somebody who is indigenous. He also went ahead and he said ‘you’re so ugly, you can see the indigenous all over your face.’”
While Maduro and the government he leads have failed on many levels, including an over-reliance on oil revenues for the country’s day to day governance and have been accused of failing to seriously combat corruption, sanctions placed on the country have created a state of siege that is mirrored on a smaller scale by what is happening at the country’s embassy in Georgetown.
Rather than being ashamed that people are dying from lack of medical and other supplies, the U.S. State Department released a statement, which it quickly withdrew, in which it seemed to be bragging about the immense suffering being inflicted on the Venezuelan people.
As Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research told reporter AnyaParampil about the 7 page document, “If I were the State Department I wouldn’t brag about causing a cut in oil production to 763,000 barrels per day – which is a 36 percent drop, in just the two months of February and March this year. This means even more premature deaths than the tens of thousands that resulted from sanctions last year.”
Although you’d never know it if you only watched corporate news anywhere in the Americas, Venezuela is neither a dictatorship (if it were, how would Guaido remain free to stir up trouble?) or a socialist country in the Marxist or any other sense. Most of its economy remains in the hands of traditional elites and big business interests.
However, one interesting aspect of the Bolivarian revolution has been the successful introduction of direct democracy in local contexts throughout the country. These communes as they are called, introduced by the late Hugo Chavez, have been a somewhat under-reported success story for some of the country’s poorest people.
As Robert Hunziker wrote on Counterpunch this past Tuesday, “A prime example is the Panal 2021 Commune, consisting of 3,600 families. The Commune initially funded itself by holding raffles and received state funds, but now it is self-financing and self-managed. Panal 2012 has (1) its own bakeries, (2) a textile mill, (3) a sugar packaging plant and (4) an expansive food storage and distribution center to make sure no families go hungry.”
He goes on to explain that the proceeds from these ventures are put in a community bank and that citizens then decide how the funds are to be used in the community.
Because the coverage of Venezuela has bordered on hysteria, small successes like these are unremarked upon. Whatever one thinks of the Maduro government, extending the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans to overthrow it is a political rather than a moral choice. While it’s easy to blame the current occupant of the White House and his advisors for every wrong in the world, in the case of Venezuela, countries like Canada, the U.K. and France have been willing participants in a U.S. led economic siege that began long before he even came into office.
The American occupiers in the country’s Georgetown embassy have mobilized in solidarity with the Venezuelan people and in the hope that they can help to prevent a war, the international left must support them.