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      Interview with Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance

      “Trump Hands Off Venezuela!” Movement Grows in the United States: The Embassy Protection Collective Continues to Defend Venezuela’s Sovereignty and Independence against U.S.-led war, sanctions and threats!

      Introduction & Interview by Alison Bodine

      It has now been four months since the U.S. government appointed Juan Guaido “interim President” of Venezuela. Mr. Guaido and his pro-U.S., pro-war, coup conspirators have failed in their attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro; despite the full backing of the United States and other allied countries, including the government of Canada. In their desperation, they have revealed just how far they are willing to go to remove President Maduro from office and reverse the gains made for poor, working and oppressed people in Venezuela in the last 20 years of the Bolivarian revolutionary process.

      Not only have they met with U.S. military forces, right-wing U.S. politicians and officials, including Elliot Abrams, a war-criminal that President Trump has appointed as special envoy to Venezuela, but Mr. Guaido has openly stated that he would support U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. As he told the La Stampa newspaper in Italy on May 9, “If the Americans were to propose a military intervention I would probably accept it.”

      In addition to supporting what would be a bloodbath for the people of Venezuela if U.S. troops or mercenaries did invade, Mr. Guaido has also publicly called for increasing sanctions against Venezuela. “[European countries] should strengthen financial sanctions against the regime. The international community must prevent Venezuelan money from being misused to kill opponents of the regime and indigenous peoples,” he told Der Spiegel, a German newspaper, in March. As reported by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), brutal U.S./Canada/EU sanctions against Venezuela killed an estimated 40,000 people from 2015-2018 through denying Venezuela access to food, medicine and other necessities.

      It is no surprise, then, that on May 13, 2019, the U.S.-backed so-called “Ambassador” to the United States from Venezuela, Carlos Vecchio, sent a letter to the Chief Admiral of the United States Southern Command asking him for a meeting to discuss cooperation between the U.S.-backed Guaido gang and the U.S. military. Mr. Vecchio sent this letter at the request of U.S. puppet “interim President” Juan Guaido.

      As Mr. Guaido and his stooges were advocating to escalate U.S.-led war against the people of Venezuela, they were also waging another attack in Washington, DC. For over a month, U.S. activists and supporters of Venezuela’s sovereignty and independence had been protecting the Venezuelan Embassy against an illegal takeover by Mr. Vecchio’s pro-coup, pro-war right-wing Venezuelans.

      Known as the Embassy Protection Collective, these brave activists were organizing within the Embassy and outside of it in the face of unrelenting and violent assault by a mob of coup supporters. For 37 days, from April 10 – May 16 they held their ground in defense of the Vienna Convention, International law which governs the treatment of embassies and diplomatic missions. At times there were as many as 50 people inside of the Embassy, and hundreds more outside, as violent pro-war violent right-wing Venezuelans attempted to intimidate them into leaving using strobe lights, bull horns, sirens and a whole range of vile, racist, sexist and homophobic insults.

      Meanwhile, the U.S. government and police merely looked on or even perpetrated the assaults on peaceful activists who were attempting to deliver food or water to Embassy Protectors. This included the assault of Gerry Condon, President of Veterans for Peace, who was violently arrested by the U.S. Secret Service after attempting to deliver cucumbers into Embassy Protectors.

      As the Embassy Protection Collective has stated: “Their coups failed in Venezuela so they are trying one here.”

      Before continuing on to the below interview with founders of the Embassy Protection Collective Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, it is helpful to establish a brief timeline of the important events and actions that took place during the period the Embassy was protected.

      March 18, 2019 – Pro-war Venezuelans illegally take over the three buildings of the Venezuelan government, the military attaché offices in Washington, DC and a consular building in New York City. Carlos Vecchio declares that “the group expected to take control of Venezuela’s embassy in Washington “in the days to come,” as reported by Reuters.

      April 10, 2019 – The heroic protection of the Venezuelan Embassy from right-wing takeover begins. For weeks there are social justice and solidarity events inside of the Embassy, until assaults and violence of the pro-coup mobs increases and begins to prevent people, food and basic supplies from entering the Embassy. There are multiple arrests of peaceful demonstrators.

      May 13, 2019 – An “eviction notice” is posted on the door of the Embassy, although it has no letterhead or signature. Later in the day, Secret Service breaks the chains on the doors and illegally enters the Embassy. They came in with the intention of arresting the Embassy Protectors, but after speaking with them, they left without making any arrests.

      May 16, 2019 – The “final four” Embassy protectors, Adrienne Pine, Margaret Flowers, David Paul, Kevin Zeese were violently arrested.

      May 24, 2019 – The U.S. government allows the so-called Ambassador Carlos Vecchio into the building, even though the government of Venezuela has secured a protecting power agreement with Turkey, wherein, pending approval of the U.S. government Turkey will agree to protect the Venezuelan Embassy. As of the end of May, the U.S. government has still refused to approve this agreement.


      At the end of May, Fire This Time interviewed two of the “final four” Embassy Protectors in order to reflect on this critical struggle, and what are the next steps in building a more united and stronger Venezuela solidarity movement in the United States and internationally.

      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 Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate.

      Kevin Zeese is a U.S. lawyer and political activist who has worked on a wide range of issues beginning with ending the war on drugs and mass incarceration, including helping to organize the 2011 Occupy encampment in Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza. He is a former candidate for U.S. Senate (Green Party) and currently serves as co-director of Popular Resistance.

      To follow the ongoing work of the Embassy Protection Collective, including updates on their legal defense campaign and how to support join the struggle to drop all charges against the Embassy Protection Collective visit: https://www.facebook.com/ColectivosporlaPaz/

      FTT: Thank you, Kevin and Margaret, for taking the time for this interview with Fire This Time. The defense of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC has been a significant struggle for the movement in defense of Venezuela and in defense of the right of oppressed nations to sovereignty and self-determination.

      For 37 days, from April 10 through May 16 you both were inside protecting the Embassy. Can you tell us about the feelings and thoughts of the protectors inside the Embassy? What do you think was the focus of the Embassy Protection Collective?

      Kevin: The main goal, of course, was to protect the embassy from a U.S. coup. It's evident that attacks on embassies, including the Washington D.C. embassy, are part of an overall strategy by the United States to conduct regime change in Venezuela. They failed in Venezuela. The coup has fallen flat on its face, multiple times they've tried and they can't get the people, the military, other government officials, really any support of any significance, so they now have to go to outside of Venezuela strategy, which is attacks on Venezuelan embassies.

      The embassy that we were at in Washington DC was important because they'd already seized the military attache building in Washington DC, they had already stolen diplomatic offices in New York City. And so we went into embassy knowing that that was a threat. That this really was the gold jewel of the Venezuelan embassy system, the Washington D.C. Embassy in Georgetown. So we went in to protect it from a coup.

      I think it's a unique event. Never before have U.S. citizens gone into a foreign embassy to protect it from the United States attacking it and handing it over to a fake coup government. So that's why we did it. I think we delayed it. I wish we had stayed longer.

      Margaret: It was interesting because we had a lot of meetings both to coordinate the activities in the embassy; like protecting ourselves, cleaning, writing, food, making sure people had a place to sleep and all of that. But we also had meetings where we talked about what was going on because at times it was stressful.

      For a couple of weeks we had people outside of the embassy who were trying to break in who were harassing us, and threatening us, and shining strobe lights at us and at the building during the night and things like that. Then we had, of course, our electricity turned off and our access to food was diminished. People had to really struggle to get supplies into us and then we lost our access to water.

      So at times it was stressful because of that, but when we would meet and sit and talk about it and then think about how people living in Venezuela are experiencing the same tactics at the hands of the U.S. government, as are people in other countries around the world, it really deepened our resolve and deepened our feeling of solidarity with people in Venezuela and in other countries who experience this situation and experience it on a much longer term basis. We felt like wow if they can face this and with dignity and cope with it, then we had a responsibility to do the same thing.

      It really had the impact of the kind of bringing us closer together and deepening our resolve. We kind of joked about the fact that we were an unintentional community. It wasn't planned it was going to be there, it was just the people who showed up and were willing to be there, but it really worked out very well in terms of people cooperating together, doing the work that needed to get done. Really, I think our collective wisdom really added to what was going on.

      FTT: Especially towards the final days that you were inside of the Embassy the U.S. government and their police escalated their assault against the Embassy Protectors, water and electricity were both cut-off, and police continued to allow the pro-war, pro-coup mobs outside to block the delivery of food and necessities to the Embassy, as well as stand by as peaceful supporters of Venezuela were verbally and physically assaulted. There were also instances where the Embassy was vandalized and even broken into by the violent right-wing counter-protestors.

      What kept you and others determined to stand your ground and continue protecting the Embassy despite these attacks?

      Kevin: Well we all know what the impact of US regime change is. We have people in the embassy among the final four who were involved in Honduras and have seen the U.S. coups impact there - destroying people's lives, killing people, mass incarceration torture, all sorts of horrors.

      Venezuela is even bigger and has a much deeper commitment to its independence. The people are really well-trained and educated on anti-imperialism, they know the U.S. tactics. So we knew that any kind of U.S. effort to pursue regime change would become violent and cause mass death. We knew that the Venezuelan would win, the people would win, they are well-prepared. It's bigger than Iraq, it's mountainous, it's woodsy, they have air defense missiles, and a mass civilian militia of more than two million people as well as armed forces and national guard police, plus alliances with Russia and China. It would have been a terrible disaster.

      As they escalated their tactics, we escalated our resolve. And even now that we are out of the embassy, we are continuing our efforts to try to resolve this peacefully. On popularresistance.org there is a slider at the top of the page on a protecting power agreement that could resolve this under international law. But, we are planning a nation-wide and international protest as well as a major day of protest this September 21st in New York City at the United Nations when the General Assembly meets because we're going to stop this coup. This coup is not going to happen. We are going to make it so that no one running for office in the 2020 election cycle can support this coup openly. They are going to have to oppose it because the people are going to demand an end to this kind of regime change activity by the United States.

      FTT: As two of the four Embassy Protectors arrested on May 16, you are now charged with “‘interference with certain protective functions.” Can you explain this charge, and how people can support your case moving forward?

      Margaret: Sure. Thank you. I also recognize that there were embassy protesters outside who were arrested and charged with assault even though they were assaulted. Or they were charged with hurling missiles at a building, which were like cucumber and bread. So we don't want to forget them as well.

      But the United States government had to be extremely creative to figure out what to charge us with because we were in the embassy with the permission of the elected government. We were given the keys. We were not trespassing. We did not break in. The U.S. government was the one that had to break in. So they dug up this charge which is a federal misdemeanour, "interfering with protective functions," and basically saying that since they served us an eviction notice on Monday, May 13th, which really was printed on plain paper, with no letterhead, no signature, no agency taking responsibility for it. We saw it as an invalid eviction notice, but in their mind, because we didn't leave the building when they told us we were evicted, although they're required to tell us who is evicting us, that for those three days between then and when they broke in with a battering ram and military style, like 100 law enforcement agents in military gear, that we were interfering with their ability to protect the building.

      We go to court on Friday, May 31 and that's just a status hearing. We're still in the midst of a kind of getting our legal team together and our legal strategy as we move forward. We'll definitely want help with publicizing the case and we're going to have to start a legal fund. Some of us qualified for court appointed lawyers but some didn't. Or in the case of Kevin, he qualified, but he's looking for an attorney that will be a better fit for our team. So we'll have a legal defense fund as well. And we're going to be also sharing information about the others who were arrested and how their court cases are proceeding.

      FTT: Although all the Embassy protectors, including yourselves, were illegally and violently removed from the Embassy by the Secret Service, the united mobilization of people in Washington DC and beyond from many different organizations and walks-of-life both inside and outside of the Embassy was a great step forward for building a united movement against U.S. war, sanctions and intervention in Venezuela.

      What do you see as the next steps towards defending the sovereignty and self-determination of Venezuela and, more importantly, building a stronger and more united movement against U.S. war and sanctions?

      Kevin: That's exactly right. We already saw from the response to the embassy protection collective organizations working together that don't often work together. People put aside divisions to come together around protecting the embassy. These organizations also all opposed the U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela. So our intention is to escalate our actions and build on the embassy protection collective activity and continue to unite the movement.

      We want to see this day, when we all get together in New York City on September 21st for the General Assembly, as a day of unity for the peace movement. We've been seeing the peace movement growing over the last year and a half. We were able to come together to stop the Trump military parade. We went on to form a Peace Congress of various peace organizations, the No Bases Coalition, which had its first meeting in Baltimore where we are, brought together many groups to focus on ending U.S. bases around the world and then they held a meeting in Ireland.

      So, it's not just an embassy protection collective effort, we are building on the efforts of many organizations that have been trying to build the peace movement. I think there's tremendous opportunity to do it. The military budget, already out of control, is continuing to escalate and take way too much of the limited federal budget. More than 60 percent of federal discretionary spending now goes to the military. There are lots of reasons that peace and justice movement connects to everything from climate change to racism and militarism at home and militarism abroad.

      Issue after issue is connected to this. If we want to have a budget that works for people and protects the planet, we've got to face up to the wasteful spending of the U.S. military and the unnecessary wars that the United States keeps fighting.

      FTT: We have recently learned about the People’s Mobilization Against the War Machine coming up this September. Can you elaborate on this important action?

      Margaret: Yeah, it's still in its early phases of planning but there are some really good ideas on the table. We're looking at actually making it a whole weekend of events. The United Nations General Assembly will be meeting at that time, and of course the unilateral coercive measures, which people refer to as sanctions, that the United States is using against Venezuela and other countries are illegal by the United Nations Charter, as well as the violation of the Vienna Convention by actually invading a foreign embassy is illegal. We want to bring this to the United Nations General Assembly.

      We'll have a mass march on Saturday, September 21st, which is also the International Day of Peace. So it's nice that that coincides with the General Assembly. Organizations are also looking at having a conference there on Friday and Saturday, around the march and then on Sunday coming together for some sort of educational and strategizing event and then perhaps something actually at the United Nations on Monday. So I hope that people will look at it as a whole weekend of activity and that people from around the world will be able to attend and participate.

      Not only was it really amazing to see the solidarity that we got from social movements in Venezuela, but also from other countries around the world. In Germany, they're doing weekly Hands Off Venezuela actions and sending us reports and things like that. So it's really great to see this kind of global solidarity because it's really needed if we're going to take on U.S. empire, which is really at the foundation of all of this.

      FTT: Thank you both for your time today. I know you're very busy and especially with a court case happening tomorrow outside of all of your regular work. Is anything you'd like to add or just to say to our readers?

      Kevin: I just want to thank you for your work. You've been a very great ally throughout the various projects I've already mentioned and we appreciate the work being done in Vancouver and in Canada. Any Hands Off Coalition has a strong community aspect to it, as does the effort to end Venezuelan sanctions, and I think that Canada has really shown itself in the Trudeau years to be an aggressive militarist government that is really into stealing the resources of countries around the world particularly in Latin America and they've been a major player in the attack on Venezuela. So we really appreciate Canadian activism and your support and participation in all the work we're trying to do.

      Margaret: I would just quickly add that it's great to work with you in Canada and I hope that what we can really do is create a united North American anti-war and peace movement because as Kevin said the Canadian government does work so closely with the United States government on these projects. So let's build it, let's keep building it and get a peaceful future.

      Kevin: Keep up the great work. Solidarity!

      FTT: Thank you.

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