CodePink co-founder and longtime peace activist Medea Benjamin was threatened with arrest in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and accused of assaulting a sitting congressmember after being forcibly removed from a press conference for opposing the U.S.-backed coup and U.S. sanctions in Venezuela. Benjamin vehemently denies the accusations and says she was in fact the one assaulted when she and other activists demonstrated at a press conference hosted by Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Florida Republican Mario Díaz-Balart announcing the launch of a Congressional Venezuela Democracy Caucus. We speak with Medea Benjamin in Washington, D.C.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we turn now to our last segment.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: CodePink founder and longtime peace activist Medea Benjamin was threatened with arrest in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and accused of assaulting a sitting congressmember after being forcibly removed from a press conference for opposing the U.S.-backed coup and U.S. sanctions in Venezuela. Benjamin vehemently denies the accusations and says she was in fact the one assaulted when she and other activists demonstrated at a press conference hosted by Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Florida Republican Mario Díaz-Balart condemning President Nicolás Maduro and announcing the launch of a Congressional Venezuela Democracy Caucus.
AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin joins us now from Washington, D.C.
Medea, what happened yesterday? Start with the beginning of the day. Where were you? What were you doing? And then, what happened next?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: There was a press conference being held outside to announce the creation of this new Democracy Caucus on Venezuela, and so we decided to go with our signs saying “Hands off Venezuela,” “No coup.” And the Venezuelan opposition elite showed up, as well. We know these people very well from the time we were part of the Embassy Protection Collective trying to stop them from taking over the Venezuelan Embassy in D.C. They are thugs.
And it’s important to understand, Amy, that this is not about Nicolás Maduro. This is about the policy of intervention that we are opposing. And the creation of this caucus was yet another piece in that. The U.S. is paying for the salaries of a parallel government that they have set up. And these people showed up at the press conference yesterday. And they push and pull. They grabbed all of our signs. They grabbed the phone out of the hands of one of us. And I was pushed and shoved and choked and thrown to the ground.
And then, later, I was accused of being the one to assault Congresswoman Deborah Wasserman Schultz. And there was a bulletin put out for my arrest. They showed up at my house, five cop cars plus police on motorcycles. And they threatened to arrest me. I was very intimidated. And I must say that I feel that this is par for the course, because, unfortunately, the police, whether it’s the Capitol Police, D.C. police or Secret Service, have always been working hand in glove with the Venezuelan opposition. And every time we get assaulted, which is unfortunately on a regular basis, we ask them to be arrested, the police won’t do it, and instead we get charged.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what happened. They came to your house, what, like five squad cars of police. They attempted to arrest you. But what happened?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: And motorcycles. Well, I asked where the warrant was for my arrest, and they didn’t have the warrant. And they waited and waited, and they said that their detectives were looking over the footage that they had. And I said, “Good, look over the footage, because you’ll see that I was being choked and thrown to the ground.” And then, after a time, they said, “All right, you’re free to go.”
Now, I don’t know if that really means free, because we have the case of Max Blumenthal, that five months after being at the Venezuelan Embassy, they came and surrounded his home and did the same thing, put him in jail for 20 hours, and now he is facing court charges for a false assault arrest. We have the four people from the Embassy Collective who are facing very serious charges for upholding international law. We have my own partner, who for six months had his passport taken away, had to report to court every week, until they finally dropped the charges.
So, I think people should know that there is a systematic attempt to intimidate those of us who are standing up for international law, standing against U.S. policy of intervention going back to the days of the Monroe Doctrine, standing up against the very brutal sanctions that are hurting people in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and that we need more people to join us in this and get our elected officials to speak out. Right now Bernie Sanders is the only one doing it. We need the other candidates to do so. We need our Congress to do so, to say, “Stop the U.S. interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”
AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, your sign said “No coup in Venezuela or Bolivia.” We just have a minute, but talk about your concerns yesterday.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, my concerns is that this new bipartisan caucus is going to turn up the screws even more. And let’s face it, they don’t care about the people of Venezuela. If they did, they would lift the sanctions. What they care about is the votes in Florida, and that’s why it’s bipartisan. Florida is a very important state in the upcoming presidential elections. And that’s why we have to stand up to the thugs, the elitists, whether it’s around Venezuela or Cuba. It’s not about those governments. It’s about the principle of nonintervention. And I call on people to join us to say, “Stop the U.S. government from going back to the days where it thinks it can impose governments on other countries.”
AMY GOODMAN: And they are saying, as you stood next to them — we’re looking at video footage. You’re right next to Congressmember Wasserman Schultz. You’re saying the Venezuelan opposition behind you took you down on the ground?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: They did. They choked me, and they threw me down to the ground. I’m in pain. I couldn’t sleep last night. My whole side is in pain. So, they definitely were the ones that grabbed me and choked me and threw me to the ground. I guess they didn’t arrest me because they saw that, and maybe they feel they would have to arrest the people who assaulted me. But once again, I do feel very intimidated. And I don’t feel like this is the end, that they could show up at my house anytime with a warrant, just to keep me in this process, like they have done to so many of our other comrades, to try to stop people from standing up for this principle of nonintervention.
AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, we thank you for being with us, co-founder of CodePink, longtime peace activist.
Happy Birthday to Ishmael Daro! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.