Showdown at the Venezuelan Embassy: Federal Authorities Back Down After Threatening to Evict Peace Activists Inside
This article (just published online) describes a tense showdown and small victory that took place Monday evening between the embassy protectors and federal authorities, and concludes with urgent actions people can take to resolve this dispute and stop a US-orchestrated coup.
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, from inside the embassy
(Writing on Day 36 of the campaign to prevent a US-sponsored coup by protecting the Venezuelan Embassy from illegal takeover.)
Events reached a climax this Monday, as well as a new level of absurdity, when for the first time, federal authorities cut the locks and opened the embassy doors to tell us we were being evicted, based solely on orders from a fictional Venezuelan ambassador named Carlos Vecchio. (Vecchio is a member of the tiny, right-wing Popular Will Party in Venezuela, and is living in the US in exile out of fear of arrest in Venezuela for his role in organizing violent protests that resulted in over 100 deaths.)
It began around 5 or 5:30pm when the DC Metropolitan Police, along with federal authorities, began negotiating our eviction and possible arrest with our lawyer, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, outside the embassy. They presented her with an order, not signed by any US agency (or any person for that matter) on plain paper without even a letterhead, saying that we were trespassing in the building and were required to leave.
“Required by whom,” Mara asked, and maintained that we were in the embassy legally, with the permission of the elected Venezuelan government, and that we were not violating any laws.
The police refused to allow her to talk to us, but they did allow her to watch from the doorway when around 7PM, the authorities cut the chains and bike lock placed on the embassy’s front doors by the legitimate embassy staff back when diplomatic relations were severed.
When the authorities opened the door, four of us were right there in the lobby (the authors of this report, along with Adrian Pine and David Paul), and we immediately began chanting, “We are here legally! You are breaking international law!”
There were US Marshalls present, members of Federal Protective Services, and a spokesperson from the State Department. They began to read the illegal eviction order, and as soon as they mentioned Vecchio’s name, we interrupted and told them it was an illegal order, that a fictional ambassador from a non-governmental group of coup plotters cannot give legal orders regarding the legitimate Venezuelan embassy.
They then asked us if we would leave voluntarily. Each of us, in turn, said “no.” We then attempted to open a dialogue with them, to let them know we are here legally, and that the only way we would leave voluntarily is if presented with a mutual Protecting Power Agreement (PPA), signed between the US and Venezuela guaranteeing the protection of both this embassy and the corresponding, vacant US embassy in Caracas. Such PPAs are historically common when diplomatic relations break down between two countries. In that even, neutral third countries agree to maintain staff at each respective embassy, protecting it until relations can be reestablished.
They listened. Then the State Department spokesperson simply repeated, “Will you leave voluntarily?”
Again we said no. We told them that entering the embassy was in the violation of the Vienna convention, and that further action could set a precedent that would put all embassies around the world at risk, including US embassies and their personnel.
They let us continue speaking.
We explained to them that removing us and taking over the embassy would also escalate the conflict between Venezuela and the United States, and that this could lead to a military conflict, creating chaos in the region and resulting in many lost lives, including that of US soldiers. “We do not want Latin America to turn into another middle east,” we said. “This would be a quagmire and would cost the US trillions of dollars. And with Russia and China allied with Venezuela, it could potentially lead to a global conflict. So be very careful. Your actions right now are important. If you cross this threshold, your name could very well go down in history as the officers who violated international law and started World War III.”
They glanced back and forth at each other with seeming concern over what they were hearing.
But the spokesperson simply repeated, “will you leave voluntarily?”
Again we said no. We told them, “Listen. The coup plotters cut off our power. They cut off our water. The secret service outside has allowed these terrorists to surround us, to assault us, to prevent food and water from getting inside. They have tried all this on us, and we are still here. If this hasn’t forced us to leave, what do you think will? Please understand we are staying until a mutual PPA is reached between the two countries. Either that or you will have to carry us out on stretchers.”
We continued for quite some time with similar themes about the Vienna convention, and that we were concerned about the personnel in US embassies around the world. We said we hoped the State Department shared our concerns. We told them that the precedent set by violating the Vienna convention would embarrass President Trump and become his legacy. We told them that John Bolton was already making a fool of Trump by misjudging the situation in Venezuela, that the people of Venezuela will not give up their independence or their sovereignty, and that they want peace with the United States. We told them there’s no reason for the US to be enemies with Venezuela, but that if they—right here and right now—cross this threshold by removing us, they could set in motion something they might regret.”
Silence. More glances. Then once again, “will you leave voluntarily?”
We continued, presenting them with an alternative. “Why violate international law,” we asked them? “International law already provides a peaceful resolution to this conflict through what are known as mutual Protective Power Agreements, or PPAs, which have been standard diplomacy since the 1870s.” We educated them that there are currently 29 PPAs in place around the world. “When there’s a peaceful path already established,” we said, “it will be especially bad for your careers and reputations if you violate international law in such a major way that could lead to war.”
Silence this time.
For good measure we added, “Following an illegal order is no defense to criminal prosecution. So we suggest you close the door, go back to your superiors, and discuss with them what we’ve just told you.”
The officer who was acting as a spokesperson left. Another officer took his place.
“Will you leave voluntarily?” he asked us.
We explained the same things to this new officer. Ten minutes later the first officer returned. We told them both that our position hadn’t changed, that we will leave voluntarily only when presented with a mutual PPA.
The officers thought for a moment. Then they informed us that they were going to close the door behind secure it. They said they would station a federal Marshall outside the door.
We told them, “make sure the entire embassy compound is under police protection because these violent terrorists have broken in three times and have yet to be prosecuted.” He replied that they would, but added that if we changed our mind, all we had to do was knock on the front door and they would let us leave peacefully.” They then shut the door and placed plastic zip ties–the same ones typically used for handcuffs– around the handles of the door.
Mara, our attorney, walked the embassy compound with the police to ensure it was fully protected. It was.
The secret service has been removed from duty, replaced with DC Metro police and officers of Federal Protective Services, which is part of DHS. Finally, for the first time, Federal authorities are now protecting the embassy—and us—from the terrorists who have been attacking us.
Monday and Tuesday night we slept peacefully for the first time in weeks.
What Social Movements Around the World Should Do
We urge social movements around the world to show their solidarity with the Embassy Protection Collective by going to US embassies to demand respect for the Vienna convention and the rule of law, and to urge the US and Venezuela to sign a mutual Protecting Power Agreement (PPA).
Furthermore, people in the United States need to become the media, because despite this being a truly unique event in US history where US citizens have gone into a foreign embassy in DC to prevent a US-orchestrated coup, the corporate media has barely covered the story.
Lastly, people should contact their members of congress. Tell them to support a mutual Protecting Power Agreement, or PPA, the usual procedure for protecting embassies when diplomatic relations break down.
Time is of the essence. Resolution of this conflict should not be a unilateral decision by John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and Mike Pompeo. It’s up to social movements and people everywhere to elevate this issue t
This week, the Foreign Ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries met in Washington, DC. NATO was greeted with bi-partisan support from Congress and by protesters who held actions and events from Saturday, March 30 through their meeting at the US Department of State on April 4.
US foreign policy is not the fabled “good cop” bringing peace to the world, but rather a policy of domination using military, economic and political power to accomplish aims for US transnational corporations and US empire. From the Iraq, Libyan, Syrian, Afghanistan and Yemeni wars (in particular) people understand the US uses its power in destructive ways that create chaos, suffering, refugees and death throughout the globe. But, few people understand the role of NATO.
The Real NATO
The mythical NATO is an organization that keeps the peace in the world, but, in reality, it has always been an aggressive military force to protect western capitalism and provide cover for illegal interventions. When the US is unable to get the United Nations Security Council to approve military action, NATO provides a multi-national approach to wars as occurred in Serbia and Afghanistan among others. When Congress will not grant authority for US military action, as in Syria, NATO participation becomes the legal cover for massive military attacks by the United States.
While NATO provides a veneer of legality, in reality, it does not have any international legal authority to go to war any more than the United States has. Even NATO military attacks require either (1) UN authorization through the Security Council, or (2) a direct military attack and a self-defense response. The NATO wars are illegal under international law, just as unilateral wars by the United States are illegal.
Yves Engler writes that NATO was created not to stem Soviet aggression, which was the public justification, but to prevent the growing political left from succeeding in taking power after World War II. It was also an alliance to maintain unity among the historic colonial powers in the midst of former colonies gaining their independence from western domination.
At the time NATO was founded in 1949, there was little possibility of aggression by the Soviet Union after a war that killed 25 million Soviets. The Soviet Union and Russia were never a threat to the United States as historian Peter Kuznick explains. We discussed the history of NATO and its current role in global militarism with Engler on our podcast, Clearing the FOG, which airs on April 8, 2019.
This dynamic continues today. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact, NATO has become “imperialism’s global strike force,” according to Danny Haiphong. Any country that dares to assert its sovereignty and use its resources to meet its people’s needs becomes a NATO target.
Yet, there are liberal politicians who continue to fall for the lies about NATO. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed the NATO Support Act. All 208 Democrats who voted (26 didn’t), voted for it, including many progressives such as Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.
NATO In Washington, DC
NATO foreign ministers came to Washington, DC this week for a series of events culminating with a meeting in commemoration of its 70th-anniversary on April 4, which was also the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 and the anniversary of his “Beyond Vietnam” speech in 1967 where he connected the triple evils of racism, militarism and the extreme consumerism of capitalism. The primary focus of the week was how NATO can combat Russia.
The protests began on March 30 when hundreds of people met across from the White House to call for an end to NATO as well as opposition to the economic war and threats of military attack against Venezuela. People described the vicious NATO attack on Yugoslavia that included an aerial bombardment from March 24 to June 10, 1999, involving 1,000 aircraft flying 38,000 combat missions, despite the UN Security Council voting against the attack as did the US House of Representatives. The bombing included attacks on civilian infrastructure as well as military targets, destroyed the country, killed thousands and created a mass exodus of 850,000 refugees.
Protesters also described the expansion of NATO from 12 to 29 countries with a particular focus on nations bordering Russia. This occurred despite US promises to the Soviet Union that NATO would not seek to expand after they disintegrated. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989–1991 removed the de facto main adversary of NATO, which should have led to its dissolution but instead has led to its reorganization and expansion. Now, NATO seeks to expand to Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine as well as spreading into Latin America with Colombia joining as a partner and Brazil considering participation (not coincidentally, these two nations border Venezuela).
On Wednesday, when seven NATO foreign ministers, a US senator and a member of Congress, among others spoke at the Center for European Policy Analysis’ “NATO at 70” conference, they were confronted by multiple protesters who were able to get into the highly-restricted conference. Dozens more demonstrated outside. Protesters described NATO as a war-making alliance that should be abolished.
During the week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had a friendly meeting with President Donald Trump where they talked about expanding NATO and having NATO members spend more money on militarism. When Stoltenberg spoke before a joint session of Congress, he was given repeated bi-partisan standing ovations. In his speech, he called for more funding and applauded Trump’s efforts to increase funding for NATO.
The next day when NATO foreign ministers met at the State Department, hundreds of protesters were outside showing opposition to NATO. A coalition of peace groups came together for this protest and events throughout the week calling for disbanding NATO. Breaking from the bi-partisan support for NATO, Howie Hawkins, who announced an exploratory committee for Green Party presidential nomination, joined the protests calling for an end to NATO and dramatic cuts to the military budget.
Our task of educating the public about the real purpose of NATO was highlighted by a conversation we had with a Park Police officer at the King Memorial. We were protesting without a permit and he was telling us we had to leave. We explained that King protested without permits and we were echoing King’s message of nonviolence and an end to war. The officer responded, “you are stretching King’s message by protesting NATO.”
His comment crystallized our task. People do not realize what NATO really is. Our first task is to educate the public about the real role of NATO as a military alliance that has waged war around the world. This includes Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria among others. Once the public understands the true role of NATO, we must make our demands clear — end NATO.
The world needs to move beyond militarism to mature and legal forms of dispute resolution by creating courts that prosecute war crimes and the crimes against humanity of all countries, including members of the UN Security Council, and putting in place agreements that end the threat of nuclear war, the most destructive form of war.
We are completing what became more than a week-long peace delegation to Venezuela organized by the US Peace Council and the Committee for International Solidarity in Venezuela (COSI). The trip was complicated by American Airlines cancelling all flights in and out of the country, leaving us scrambling for ways to get there and get home. We also arrived in the midst of the attack on Venezuela’s electrical system, which caused further complications.
Our delegation met with community groups, political parties and members of the government, including a private meeting with President Maduro. One theme that became obvious during the visit is that United States imperialism is fundamentally weak. It relies on lies and bullying threats to get its way. So far, Venezuelans are resisting everything the US and its allies are throwing at it, but they remain vigilant and concerned about an escalation of attacks. The people of Venezuela are prepared for more struggle, building a self-sufficient resistance economy and the will fight to preserve their independence.
Venezuela Unites in Response To US Attack on Electrical Grid
The attack on Venezuela’s electrical grid began on March 7 and continued for several days. The outage made life difficult for Venezuelans. Without electricity, water pumps could not bring water to people’s homes, refrigerators weren’t working and the subway couldn’t run.
People lined up to fill buckets with water. Lights were on, but not everywhere. When we talked to residents, we learned how they came to their neighbor’s aid, sharing food and water. Despite years of economic difficulties caused by US and allied countries’ sanctions, there were no reports of looting or unrest in Caracas. Venezuelans remained calm and steady while confronting the challenges of the blackout. School and work were cancelled until March 14, but some people were out anyway and a few shops were open.
Maduro explained that the attack on the electrical grid came from the United States. There is evidence it emanated from Houston, the home of the company that provided infrastructure for the grid, and Chicago. There were also attacks on power lines and substations inside Venezuela. When a section was repaired, it would be attacked again.
Maduro told us the plan had been for the attack on the electrical grid to cause chaos and confusion in order to provide an excuse for US intervention. The plan failed. Venezuelans realized this was part of the US-led coup campaign, and rather than becoming divided, they united.
The Democratically-elected government of President Maduro worked to end the electricity crisis, provide people with water and food and make sure buses were running. The self-appointed coup’s Juan Gaido worked with the United States, which caused the blackout and their hardships. Gauido is being investigated for his involvement in the electrical attack. He is allied with countries waging an economic war that is causing financial distress, and he is calling for foreign military intervention, a traitorous action.
On Tuesday, the US Embassy in Venezuela was forced to close because it was being used as a center for organizing ongoing US intervention. President Maduro told us how the US openly tried to bribe and threaten officials in his government and in the military and how they threatened his wife and family. The US told the opposition to boycott the last election and told candidates not to run against him. They knew they would lose an election to Maduro, so the plan had always been to falsely claim the election was illegitimate.
Maduro wants to have a dialogue with the US but the embassy had to close because not only was it undermining his government but it provided justification for the US to intervene on behalf of its diplomatic staff. Venezuela plans to have dialogue with the US through its UN representative.
When the embassy personnel left, we received word we were “on our own.” The State Department issued a statement describing civil unrest in Caracas saying Americans could be arrested at any time for no reason. They warned people it was too dangerous to come to Venezuela. This was echoed by the Airline Pilots Association, who told their pilots not to fly to Venezuela because of the dangers.
The morning of these declarations, we went for a walk in Caracas to look for unrest. Families were out with their children, people were shopping and eating pizza and ice cream. Caracas is as active and safe as any big city in the United States. Members of our delegation described in this video the calm in Caracas and how the US was falsely claiming civil unrest to manufacture an excuse for US intervention.
When we talked to Venezuelans, one thing they commonly told us was ‘thank you for coming to Venezuela, now you can tell people in the United States the truth about our country when your politicians and media lie about us.’ The Venezuelan people want a good relationship with the people of the United States. President Maduro told us of his love for the United States and how he had driven through Chinatown, Little Italy, and Harlem in New York, visited many cities in the US, was offered a contract to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and loves basketball and Jimi Hendrix.
Maduro has offered to meet with President Trump to discuss and resolve their differences. His Foreign Secretary met with John Bolton — a fruitless meeting, but an attempt by Venezuela for dialogue. Venezuela wants a positive relationship with the United States but it will not give up its sovereignty, independence, or pride, and is prepared to fight a US coup.
Guaido Is the Butt of Jokes In Venezuela, Not Legitimate Under the Constitution
We were invited to be in the audience of the most widely-watched television show in Venezuela. It is a remarkable political education-entertainment show hosted by the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. The show, Con el Mazo Dando (loosely translated as “Hitting with a Club”), is a weekly five-hour show that combines politics with music and comedy. During the show, he covered 80 different news stories including a chronology of the electrical attack.
Cabello uses biting satire. Guaido was the punch line of many jokes and his alliance with the hated Trump administration was highlighted. Gauido does not have the respect of the people of Venezuela. He is becoming of little use to the US coup and will possibly be discarded in the near future.
While Guaido has overtly committed multiple crimes, the Maduro administration seems to have made a conscious decision to not arrest him as his actions are weakening him and exposing the coup’s connection to US and western imperialism.
The people of Venezuela have shown their solidarity in standing together against the US and oligarch coup attempt. It is essential for those who believe in peace, justice and anti-imperialism to do the same.
We agree with Vijay Prashad, solidarity is a process, not a slogan. We plan to build on the relationships we developed with the US Peace Council, World Peace Council and COSI among others. We will provide a list of items that COSI needs for their ongoing organizing in Venezuela, but so far they told us they need computers, printers and paper. They also need donations (a little goes a long way). They don’t have a website yet. If you can donate, contact us at email@example.com and we’ll find a way to get it to them.
The first steps in building solidarity include demanding the end to all interference: ending US imperialism and preventing military intervention and war. It also means an end to the economic war, sanctions, blocking of finances and the embargo. On a near daily basis, it requires us to correct the record and confront the lies on which US imperialism is based. We will continue to post stories on Venezuela regularly and we urge you to re-post them to social media, email networks, and websites.
We can defeat the regime change narrative by getting out the truth. Join the national webinar on Venezuela on March 26 at 7:00 pm Eastern. Register here. And join the national webinar on NATO and Latin America on March 28 at 8:00 pm Eastern. Register here. We will have more reports from our meetings in Venezuela posted on Popular Resistance.
It is evident the US coup is weak. They have a weak leader in Guaido. They depend on lies because the truth undermines their every turn. They cannot participate in elections because they have very little democratic support. This contrasts with the strength of Maduro, who has the support of the people. The popular movement is positioned to stop the Venezuela coup and prevent a military attack. Our solidarity efforts in the US may prevent them from having to suffer more.
Two things stand out about the US coup in Venezuela. First, it is unusually open. Typically, the US tries to hide its coups. Second, the coup is built on a series of obvious falsehoods, yet the bi-partisans in Washington, with a few exceptions, keep repeating them.
First, we will correct the falsehoods so readers are all working from the same facts. Second, we will describe how this coup is being defeated. It will be another major embarrassment for the Trump administration and US foreign policy.
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and the second largest gold reserves, as well as diamonds and other minerals such as coltan (needed for electronic devices). And, Venezuela is taking over as president of OPEC and will be in a position to push for oil payments in non-dollar currencies or in cryptocurrencies, a major threat to the US dollar.
A protest outside the United States Consulate in Sydney on January 23 to demand no US intervention in Venezuela. Photo: Peter Boyle
Correcting the Record
There are a series of false statements repeated by DC officials and corporate media to justify the coup that are so obvious, it is hard to believe they are not intentional. In his two-paragraph comment on the coup, even Senator Bernie Sanders repeated them.
1. Truth: President Nicolás Maduro is the legitimate president.
President Maduro was re-elected on May 20, 2018, in response to the opposition demanding an early election. The legitimacy of the election of Maduro is so evident that it must be assumed those who say he is illegitimate are either intentionally false or ignorant. The election was scheduled consistent with the Venezuelan Constitution and in consultation with opposition parties. When it became evident that the opposition could not win the election, they decided, under pressure from the United States, to boycott the election in order to undermine its legitimacy. The facts are 9,389,056 people voted, 46% of eligible voters. Sixteen parties participated in the election with six candidates competing for the presidency.
The electoral process was observed by more than 150 election observers. This included 14 electoral commissions from eight countries among them the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America; two technical electoral missions; and 18 journalists from different parts of the world, among others. According to the international observers, “the elections were very transparent and complied with international parameters and national legislation.”
Venezuela has one of the best electoral systems in the world. Voter fraud is not possible as identification and fingerprints are required for each voter. Voting machines are audited before and immediately after the election. Venezuela does something no other country in the world does — a public, citizen’s audit of a random sample of 53% of voting machines that is televised. All 18 parties signed the audits.
Maduro won by a wide margin, obtaining 6,248,864 votes, 67.84%; followed by Henri Falcón with 1,927,958, 20.93%; Javier Bertucci with 1,015,895, 10.82%; and Reinaldo Quijada, who obtained 36,246 votes, 0.39% of the total.
This same voting system has been used in elections that Maduro’s party has lost in governor’s and legislative elections. Venezuela is a real democracy with transparent elections. The United States could learn a good deal about real democracy from Venezuela.
2. Truth: The economic crisis is caused by outside intervention, internal sabotage and the decline in oil prices.
There is no doubt the economic situation in Venezuela is dire. The cause is the economic war conducted by the United States, the major decline in oil prices and economic sabotage by the opposition. In essence, the United States and opposition created problems in the Venezuelan economy and now say Maduro must be replaced because of problems they created.
Oil was discovered in Venezuela in the early part of the 20th Century and has dominated the economy since then. The Dutch Disease, the negative impact of an economy based on one natural resource, causes a sharp inflow of foreign currency, which raises the value of the country’s currency, making the country’s other products less price competitive. It is cheaper to import products rather than create them. This makes it more difficult for segments of the economy like agriculture and manufacturing to develop.
Chavez/Maduro sought to diversify the economy. They put in place thousands of communes and hundreds of thousands of people working in cooperatives to build agriculture and manufacturing. When the global price of oil was cut by more than half, it collapsed Venezuela’s public finances undermining these efforts. The economic war by the US made it difficult for Venezuela to borrow and trade with some countries.
The US economic war and sabotage of the economy by business interests has been exposed as part of the effort to remove Maduro by creating social unrest and lack of confidence in the government. This has included hoarding of goods, storing essentials in warehouses and selling Venezuelan goods in Colombia.
Socialism strengthens economies, as demonstrated in Portugal. Indeed, one criticism of Venezuela is that the Bolivarian Process is moving too slowly to put in place a socialist economy. There is a need for more sectors to be nationalized and put under democratic control of the people.
3. Truth: The opposition is violent, not the Maduro government.
Opposition protesters have been extremely violent. One tactic of the opposition was to be violent and then film the government’s response to make the government look violent. When Abby Martin was confronted by opposition protesters, they told her, “Do not film anything that we do. Just film what the government does to us.” She reported on the violence saying, “the vast majority has been caused by either indirect or direct violence by the opposition.”
Martin reports the opposition attacked hospitals, burned down the Housing Ministry, assassinated Chavistas and attacked citizen communes such as an art commune that gave free dance and music lessons to local children. Afro-Venezuelans were burned alive. Protesters pulled drivers out of buses and torched the buses. When photos and videos of opposition violence were put on social media, Martin and her colleague, Mike Prysner, became the target of a false media campaign on social media. The opposition did all they could to prevent them from reporting the truth using hundreds of death threats and threats they would be lynched.
In 2017, Venezuela Analysis reported that violent opposition protests included an attack on a maternity hospital endangering the lives of more than 50 newborn babies. Another report described the opposition using snipers to shoot government officials and civilians. Opposition newspapers urged that blunt objects be used to “neutralize” pro-government protesters, resulting in serious injuries and death.
Steve Ellner also reported that violence was coming from the opposition. He pointed to attacks at grocery stores, banks, buses, and government buildings. Other commentators described specific incidents of violence by the opposition including killing people. Maduro ordered the arrest of a retired general who tweeted how to use wire to decapitate people on motorcycles, which happened, and how to attack armored vehicles with Molotov cocktails.
Documents show that violence was the opposition’s strategy. They sought to “Create situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate US intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the support of the Colombian government. Whenever possible, the violence should result in deaths or injuries.”
The tales of government violence are rooted in lies. The government’s response was Maduro calling for a peace conference describing it as “a national peace conference with all the country’s political sectors … so we Venezuelans can try to neutralize violent groups.”
4. Truth: The National Assembly acted in violation of the law and is in contempt of court.
The National Assembly is not the only democratic body in Venezuela. Indeed, its actions since the opposition won a majority have violated the law and protected the violence of the opposition with an embarrassing amnesty bill.
On December 6, 2015, the opposition won a parliamentary majority in the Assembly. There were allegations of vote buying in Amazonas state that were investigated by the National Electoral Council, another branch of the government. The Supreme Court barred four legislators from Amazonas taking office, two from the opposition, one allied with the opposition and one from the ruling party. The National Assembly allowed three candidates to take office. The Assembly has been held in contempt of court since July 2016 and their decisions were nullified.
Before the court ruling, the Assembly passed an amazing amnesty law, which granted amnesty for crimes the opposition has committed since 1999 (Chavez’ election). The law is an admission of guilt and provides a well-organized catalog of crimes including felonies, crimes committed at public rallies, terrorist acts involving explosives and firearms and undermining the economy. They essentially admitted exactly what Chavez/Maduro have claimed — crimes to overthrow the government for 17 years. Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled the amnesty law was unconstitutional. Inaccurately, the Trump administration calls the Assembly Venezuela’s only remaining democratic institution.
This January, a subsidiary of the state oil company asked the Assembly to intervene claiming the president cannot make reforms to mixed public-private oil businesses without the prior approval of the National Assembly. On January 16, the court ruled that the Assembly was still in contempt of court and could not act. This is also when the Assembly elected Juan Guaidó as their president, who would later appoint himself President of Venezuela, as part of the US-led coup. Guaidó’s election to head the legislature was illegal and nullified by the court.
The Assembly still exists but remains in a state of contempt of the judiciary. It can rectify the situation by removing the lawmakers accused of electoral fraud. The Assembly refuses to do so because their goal is to remove Maduro from office and they need a super-majority to do so.
Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK disrupts Mike Pompeo at the OAS. Press TV.
A Timeline of the US Coup in Venezuela
In “Anti-Maduro Coalition Grew from Secret Talks,” the Associated Press explains the coup was “only possible because of strong support from the Trump administration, which led a chorus of mostly conservative Latin American governments that immediately recognized Guaidó.”
The Wall Street Journal reports Trump has long viewed Venezuela as one of his top-three foreign policy priorities, with Iran and North Korea. Trump requested a briefing on Venezuela on his second day in office, talking of the immense potential of Venezuela to become a rich nation through its oil reserves. AP reports that Trump “personally sparked” this as he brought up regime change in Venezuela in every meeting with Latin American leaders.
After Maduro was re-elected, administration plans began taking shape, driven in part by key members in the National Security Council and anti-Maduro advocates in Congress like extreme interventionist Senator Marco Rubio.
On November 1, John Bolton zeroed in on Latin America, calling Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela a “troika of tyranny.” On January 2, Bolton met with his Brazilian and Colombian counterparts to collaborate to “return Venezuela to its democratic heritage.”
On January 10, Maduro was sworn in for his second term, Pompeo spoke with opposition leader Guaidó, pledging support. Canada also played a key role, AP reports that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Guaidó the night before Maduro’s inauguration offering Canada’s support. This was 13 days before Guaidó announced he was president of Venezuela.
On January 12, the State Department backed Guaidó’s move to invoke his authority as president of the assembly, saying, “It is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government.” On January 15, the National Assembly declared Maduro as illegitimate. The Trump administration worked to get allies lined up to support Guaidó’. By January 18, the Venezuela Foreign Minister was describing a US coup in progress.
The night before Guaidó’s announcement on January 23, Vice President Mike Pence put out a video message encouraging Venezuelans to overthrow their government, saying, “We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you.” Guaidó also received a phone call from Pence the night before he appointed himself president where he pledged that the U.S. would back Guaidó.
Guaidó declared that Maduro’s government was illegitimate and he was assuming the presidency. In a well-coordinated charade, almost instantly, Trump recognized Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader. To further demonstrate the preconceived, tightly coordinated and efficiently carried out the coup, US allies, among them Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Peru, quickly recognized the coup president.
The Trump administration is claiming Guaidó represents the lawful government and is entitled to all Venezuelan revenues. The State Department notified the Federal Reserve that Guaidó is the agent for access to Venezuelan assets in US banks.
Nearly as quickly, Maduro drew statements of support from Russia, China, Turkey, Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, and others. The Venezuelan Supreme Court called for an investigation into the National Assembly and Guaidó, regarding the illegal usurpation of Executive power. The Venezuelan military announced it supported Maduro and Russia warned the US not to intervene militarily.
At the UN Security Council meeting on January 26, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States of attempting “to engineer a coup d’etat.” He demanded to know whether the Trump administration “is ready to use military force” against Venezuela. European countries gave Venezuela eight days to hold an election, a suggestion Venezuela rejected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Venezuela an “illegitimate mafia state.” He accused Russia and China of trying “to prop up Maduro.”
China has lent over $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade and has become a partner in the Venezuelan oil industry. In December, seven months since signing a financial business venture with China, Venezuela’s oil production has doubled to 130,000 barrels per day. The take-over of Venezuela’s oil would also be an attack on China. China and Venezuela signed 28 bilateral strategic cooperation agreements on September 14 in the areas of oil, mining, security, technology, finance, and health.
Demonstrating the nature of the coup president, the first acts that Guaidó took were to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which would put Venezuela in debt to western bankers and under their control, and to privatize the Venezuelan oil industry, which would rob Venezuela of the funds being used to lift up the poor and working class.
Analyst Vijay Prashad writes the coup violated the charters of the United Nations and of the Organisation of American States and describes efforts to call on the military to rise up against the government have failed. The Trump administration is now threatening a total oil embargo on Venezuela and is leaving the “military option” open.
The concerted campaign by the US and Canada to install Juan Guaidó as the new ‘self-declared’ interim President of Venezuela has been met with initial failure. Unfortunately, the illegal and undemocratic attempts to destabilize the country and overthrow the democratically-elected President will continue with harmful consequences. The people of Venezuela are rising once again to defend their country against hostile foreign intervention. It is essential that we support them in this fight. Many groups are holding solidarity rallies and issuing statements of support. Find rallies and protests here and here.
While Sanders got all the facts wrong about Venezuela, he did reach the right conclusion: “The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries. We must not go down that road again.” People in the United States have an important role to play in supporting Venezuela and defeating the coup.