Interviews by Alison Bodine
On April 27, 2019 people in Venezuela marched in the streets of the capital city, Caracas, against continued U.S.-led war on Venezuela. The demonstration in defense of Venezuela’s sovereignty and self-determination also marked that Venezuela has now left Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS has been a tool for U.S. and imperialist meddling in Venezuela and their “regime change” plot to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Maduro.
Thousands of miles to the North, in Washington, DC the heroic actions of defense of Embassy Protective Collective are echoing the voices of the mass majority of Venezuelan people that are mobilizing against U.S. threats, sanctions and war. Since April 12, 2019 a group of activists have been guarding the Venezuelan Embassy, 24 hour a day, 7 days a week from hostile and illegal takeover by the goons of U.S. puppet Juan Guaido.
Although Juan Guaido’s attempted coup against President Maduro has failed miserably, the U.S. government continues to promote Guaido, who commands none of Venezuela’s state institutions, as the “legitimate” leader of Venezuela. This has included police and U.S. Secret Service facilitating the illegal occupation of a military attaché building in Washington DC, and the Venezuelan Consulate in New York City on March 18.
The Embassy Protection Collective has taken up the call to defend the dignity and sovereignty of Venezuela, and their important work should be celebrated and supported by all peace-loving people.
Below are two interviews by Fire This Time with leaders within this vital movement, covering the significance of their struggle, and the next steps that the Embassy Protection Collective will be taking from the frontlines of the fight against war on Venezuela.
Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the women-led peace group CODEPINK and the co-founder of the human rights group Global Exchange. She has been an advocate for social justice for more than 40 years. She is the author of ten books, including Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control and Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection. Her most recent book, Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is part of a campaign to prevent a war with Iran and instead promote normal trade and diplomatic relations. The interview took place when Medea was on a delegation in Colombia.
Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician who practiced medicine for 17 years, first as director of pediatrics at a rural hospital and then in private practice. In 2007, Margaret left practice to advocate full time for National Improved Medicare for All single payer healthcare. She is the Co-director of Popular Resistance, co-host of the radio show Clearing the FOG and former candidate for U.S. Senate. The interview took place while Margaret was inside of the Venezuelan Embassy.
For more information, to watch the livestream, and to learn about how you can support this important work visit the Embassy Protection Collective Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ColectivosporlaPaz/
INTERVIEW WITH MEDEA BENJAMIN
FTT: Thank you, Medea, for taking the time for this interview with Fire This Time. As one of the leaders that began this important fight in defense of Venezuela’s sovereignty and self-determination, can you please explain how and when did this important struggle start?
Medea Benjamin: We were at the press conference they held outside the military attaché’s office in Washington D.C. when they [the Guaido opposition] announced that they were taking over that building. And that same day they took over the New York City Venezuelan Consulate and they announced at their press conference that they wanted to take over the D.C. Venezuelan embassy.
Then when the Organization of American States (OAS) took a vote against their own charter, which is supposed to be a two thirds majority but instead, because they couldn't get that, they used a simple majority. They voted to kick Venezuela out. That was a move to then take over the Embassy, because as long as they had Venezuelan diplomats who were part of the Organization of American States working at the Embassy, they would probably not take it over. But once they had managed to throw Venezuela out of the OAS and the State Department gave the Venezuelan remaining diplomats two weeks to leave, we knew that two weeks later there would be a green light for taking over the Embassy. That's why we then got the okay from the Maduro government to start staying at the Embassy.
FTT: It's been important and inspiring to us to watch from Vancouver and just all around the world. We've been sharing the videos and livestream. It's really a heroic defense of building that right now is representing the call of the country to have their sovereignty respected.
Benjamin: I was just going to say how important it is to see this in this larger historical context, where I don't think it's ever happened before in the history of our country where American citizens have gone into a foreign Embassy with the permission of that Embassy to protect it from our own government. That's quite extraordinary, because we know that the opposition could never take over any building in the U.S. without the complicity of the U.S. government. They need the backing of the U.S. security forces to be able to do this. And in this case they need the State Department's accreditation to be able to do it. So we are really protecting the Embassy from our government.
FTT: What has been the response of the progressive movement in the U.S. to the actions of the Embassy Protection Collective?
Benjamin: Well there's been a growing number of people and groups that have come to join in. It's one of those things that start to snowball, and we hope we will have enough time to really build it up. We have Code Pink and Popular Resistance, the Answer Coalition, Democratic Socialists of America, members of the Green Party. And then in the evenings where we've had these educational activities we have people come who are associated with lots of different organizations. Such as the group that works with El Salvador, CISPES, the Honduran Solidarity Network. We've had people from Cuba Solidarity Network. Next week we're planning a gathering there will be people who work around the Palestinian Human Rights. We've had people from the D.C. community who are concerned about issues of gentrification and racism. We've had speakers who make the connections between things that are happening in Washington D.C. to local population and how it connects to the struggle in Venezuela. So it's really been fantastic to have every single night some event that educates people, that brings new people in, and that forms a real community of resistance that we haven't had in Washington D.C. for a long time.
FTT: Is there anything else that you'd like to share about this important struggle with our readers here in Canada and around the world?
Benjamin: I think you better watch out because Canada will be next. So be ready. It would be good to be prepared, to even pre-emptively, get groups on board to say don't let this happen because, believe me, it's in the works. I'm sure the talks have been going on between the Canadian government and the Guaido opposition about just this thing.
FTT: Well thank you for taking time out of what I'm sure it's been a crazy schedule for you between Colombia and the Embassy in Washington DC. All of our solidarity.
Benjamin: Wonderful. Thanks so much. Nice talking to you too.
INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET FLOWERS
FTT: Thank you Margaret for doing this interview with Fire This Time. We understand how busy you are and how many things you guys are balancing there from inside Venezuela's Embassy. This is a great and important struggle that you are participating in and leading. The Embassy Protection Collective is really taking an important role in leadership in defending the people of Venezuela against war by the US and their allies and defending their dignity and sovereignty and self-determination.
Can you give us an update as to what has been happening since you arrived and what right now has been the response of the U.S. government and the police? We know that they are keeping a "careful eye" on you all.
Margaret Flowers: Thank you. We started our constant presence at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. on April 10th. Prior to that there had been some gatherings here just kind of a show of solidarity. But then, when the Organization of American States (OAS) changed their rules on April 9th so they could vote to recognize Juan Guaido as the President of Venezuela, the State Department gave the Venezuelan OAS diplomats two weeks instead of 60 days to leave the country. We felt a sense of urgency that needed to be here not knowing how things would that would go down.
For the first week that we were here we kind of organized ourselves: Code Pink, the ANSWER Coalition and Popular Resistance into what we call the Embassy Protection Collective. The Venezuelans are actually calling us the "colectivos por la paz", the peace collective. They're trying to reclaim that sense of collective as a positive thing because the opposition has tried to demonize it.
We spent the first week really focused on legal avenue. Could we get a temporary restraining order against the State Department to prevent them from coming in here because the United Nations still recognizes President Maduro as the President, and he is the president of Venezuela? And then when we consulted with numerous lawyers and realized that there wouldn't be the ability to get that here in the United States, because there's this doctrine of non-judicial ability, that basically judges would say that's a political question and we can't decide it, the Executive Office has to decide. So, then we thought, okay, now we just need to get as many people here and as much media here to make it much more of a spotlight on this and less possible for the State Department to send in the Secret Service to take us out.
We are here legally. We have the full support of the Venezuelan government. They didn't ask us to come here, but we asked to be here, and they agreed. And so, we've had support statements from the Vice Foreign Minister, to the Foreign Minister, to President Maduro himself, expressing their support for us being here. Actually, right now we are the ones taking care of the Embassy, we have the keys and the responsibility to care for it.
Last week with a really big week. Because the two weeks was up on Thursday, we thought that the Secret Service would come in then and we put out a large call to action and had about 50 to 75 people here on Wednesday night. So, a really strong showing. We had John Kiriakou do a public event where he talked about an inside view inside the CIA view of regime change efforts, which was super interesting. And we were prepared for the Secret Service to come in and to stay here and try to say that you're not supposed to be here and they would have to carry us out. And they didn't come.
The Secret Service has not given us any order. The State Department has not given us any order to leave. And so our position right now is that we are the lawful ones that are here. We're calling ourselves "interim protectors." And I'll explain that in a second, but in that we are actually tenants of this building now and there is an eviction process that's required in Washington D.C. that would require that we have our own participation in that process. So we're hoping that that will keep them out.
The current situation is that the United States has a very large Embassy in Caracas. They have made an agreement with Switzerland to be the protectorate for that Embassy. The Venezuelan government has to approve that before it can go forward. The Venezuelan government is trying to find a country to be a protectorate for this Embassy and they're saying that once they find a protectorate they will then agree to the U.S. and Switzerland's agreement, on the condition that the U.S. agrees to have their protectorate here. That would be the very best situation. If we can stay here until they make that negotiation and complete it and then leave, turning it over to the other country, then I think that would be great.
But, if they fail to make that negotiation and the U.S. does come in here and take us out and take over the Embassy, then Venezuela has been very clear that they will then seize the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. The U.S. will see that as an act of aggression and then who knows how it will escalate from there. So we really feel like we're kind of in this balance between a peaceful resolution of this situation and one that could escalate into serious conflict.
FTT: It is really powerful the way that the Embassy been decorated in defense of Venezuela, international law, and respect for sovereignty. The banners are very clear and I'm sure has had an impact on people driving by and arriving to the Embassy. Could you describe what you think the next steps might be as far as within the Embassy? What I the Collective planning in the next few days?
Flowers: One is to maintain a very strong physical presence. So, having these events, bringing the public in and having lots of people who are coming and going. There are some people who come and sleep here and then go to work or go to school during the day and come back. There are some people who like me, I just stay here all the time and I do my work here during the day. People who will just come for the events or just come to visit, help with cooking and things like that.
The second is that we must maintain a favorable media image. There has been a lot of media coming in covering this. We know the corporate media is not very friendly to us, and, we would do this anyway, but we just feel a very serious responsibility to take care of this very dignified space. And so, we're keeping the Embassy very clean. We have people here that do maintenance work and home remodeling and things like that, so when something breaks down, like the elevator did the other day, they can fix it. Or if a toilet doesn't flush, they can fix it. So, we're maintaining the building, both clean and, also, maintaining the infrastructure within the building.
Then the third thing is being very disciplined in the face of what we can assume from their behavior and their lack of sophistication are poorly paid disruptors and provocateurs who are coming out in greater numbers. When I say greater numbers, I am talking like four or five. But being more aggressive in their actions towards us. And so that gets the police really edgy, and the Secret Service usually roll up when they're here and we have to be super careful about anything that we do. Because, the Secret Service will jump out and start complaining if there's any appearance of any kind of a conflict.
FTT: From Fire This Time we been following on online and sharing about your struggle. The livestream has been really great for everyone to see and to learn from and be inspired by this really heroic defense. What do you think people in the U.S. and Canada can do to defend and support this great initiative that you and the Embassy Protection Collective have taken?
Flowers: Well I would say thank you. I would say our first priority is if you are able, or you know someone who is able, to come here and physically be with us, somebody who would be interested in doing that, we need people. We need bodies here and there's all kinds of different tasks, from helping with the cleaning and the cooking, to helping with the media or building maintenance or security. Just sitting in a chair just watching or standing and watching. It's a lot to maintain for the core group that's here. So bodies are needed.
Spreading the word, just letting people know about what's going on and how this is would be a gross violation of Article 22 of the Vienna Convention, which has always been followed even when countries are at war with each other. It requires that the host country protect the Embassy, so to turn it over to an imposter, to someone who is participating in a failed coup, would just be a huge violation of international law. We are here like I said we're here legally. We call ourselves, tenants, we call ourselves interim protectorates of the Embassy. Those who are trying to come in would be an occupying force. And sadly they are a violent occupying force. So getting that out there. How outrageous this is.
Then people can support materially. Some of the main things that we need are food. We're trying to feed a lot of people who are staying here. Some people have been very generous and have actually ordered food remotely and sent that to us. That's a huge thing for us because, even the cooking, if we didn't have to do as much cooking would be less of a burden on us and allow us to pay more attention to the other tasks that we have to do.
FTT:: Thank you, Margaret, for your time. Like I said, we Fire This Time and our Venezuela Solidarity Campaign definitely send all of our support and love and solidarity to everyone doing this important work. We will continue following very closely and doing whatever we can to support.
Flowers: Thank you so much it's really appreciated.
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