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Despite Threats & No Electricity, Anti-Coup Activists Remain Inside Venezuelan Embassy in D.C.

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In Washington, D.C., four activists remain in the Venezuelan Embassy after police raided the building Monday night. Activists with CodePink, ANSWER Coalition and Popular Resistance have been inside the embassy since late April at the invitation of Venezuela’s government in order to prevent it from being taken over by Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition, led by Juan Guaidó. Last week, authorities cut off water and electricity to the embassy. We speak with CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin about the ongoing standoff at the embassy.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Washington, D.C., four activists remain in the Venezuelan Embassy after police raided the building Monday night. Activists with CodePink, ANSWER Coalition and Popular Resistance have been inside the building since late April at the invitation of Venezuela’s government in order to prevent it from being taken over by Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition, led by Juan Guaidó.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, authorities cut off water and electricity to the Venezuelan Embassy. As they were on the verge of being raided Monday, activists released a video statement, vowing to continue the fight.

KEVIN ZEESE: We’re not going to leave voluntarily. We came here to protect the embassy. We’ve been here for 34 days. We will stay longer, if necessary. We hope that this still results in an agreement between Venezuela and the United States to protect this embassy from the fake government, the fake coup nongovernment that the U.S. is pushing forward. So, we’re here. We’re still resisting.

AMY GOODMAN: To find out more, we’re going to Washington, D.C., to speak with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, one of the activists living inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., demanding the embassy not be turned over to the Venezuelan opposition leaders.

Medea, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain the standoff right now.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: It’s a remarkable situation, Amy. Two days ago, the police came in with a fake eviction notice. It was written on a piece of paper that had no letterhead, no seal, no signature. We didn’t know who it came from. And the police read this out as if it were an official eviction notice. Our lawyer, who has been fantastic, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, went to speak to the people remaining in the embassy, and they discussed the situation and said they were not going to leave. The only way they would leave is once there is an arrangement between Venezuela and the United States as to what will happen to both embassies, an arrangement that respects the Vienna Convention.

And so, the police cut the locks on the doors, and they read the eviction notice, and our brave heroes inside the embassy said that they would not leave. We all thought that this was the end, that they were going to be carried out. The Guaidó supporters outside were cheering. And instead, the police turned around, closed the doors, put the lock back on and left.

And so, that is the situation today. Nothing happened yesterday. We thought they would come back with some kind of a court order. They did not. And the standoff remains. This is quite a remarkable chapter in history, where very brave, valiant U.S. citizens, both inside the embassy at the permission of the legal Venezuela government and people outside who have been facing harassment, being arrested for trying to bring food into the embassy, have held onto that embassy now for five weeks and continue to do so.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Medea, I want to read from the eviction notice. It read, in part, quote, “Ambassadors Vecchio and [Gustavo] Tarre have requested and directed anyone who is present on this property to depart from it immediately, and to not return without these ambassadors’ express authorization. Any person who refuses to comply with these requests and orders to depart from this property will be trespassing in violation of federal and District of Columbia law and may be arrested and criminally prosecuted.” Well, now, there’s only one problem, Medea. Most any embassy is, in effect—isn’t it international territory? So, this whole issue of even the D.C. police being involved in this is questionable, to say the least?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Absolutely, Juan. We have the law on our side, invited by the government that is in power, the government that is recognized by the United Nations. It is very clear in the Vienna Conventions, in Article 45, that even if there is a rupture of relations between two states, the hosting country has to respect the integrity of the diplomatic premises. The U.S. knows this very well. The State Department knows this very well. And we have been very clear that anybody who illegally enters that embassy to try to evict us is committing an illegal act and will be held accountable. There are people in the U.S. government that also recognize the grave precedent that this would establish, that it would have repercussions against U.S. embassies around the world. We want to protect not only the Venezuela Embassy from takeover by an illegal group, but we want to prevent the Maduro government from taking over the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

And there is a very easy answer to all of this that has been used since the 1800s, and that is called the empowering—it’s the protection power agreement, that we get an outside country, a third party, and that party then becomes the one in charge of the building. This has happened in the case of Iran, Cuba and North Korea. The U.S. has often used the countries such as Sweden and Switzerland to protect its embassies. And this could be easily done in the case of the U.S. and Venezuela right now. In fact, there are talks between the two countries to do this.

And that’s why it’s so important that we hang on in this embassy until an agreement is reached. And once that protecting power agreement is reached, then the U.S. and Venezuela could potentially talk about other issues, as well, to try to end this crisis that could otherwise lead not only to a takeover of this embassy and a takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, but could lead to a U.S. military intervention, a civil war in Venezuela, that could rage on for decades. So we are doing this to uphold international law and to prevent a war.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this whole issue of the legitimate government of Venezuela inviting those protesters into the embassy to protect it. The Washington Post had a very interesting article a couple of days ago supposedly going behind the scenes of the failed—the most recent failed coup attempt. Because there have already been three this year against Maduro. But one of the things it mentions is that President Trump has become increasingly angry, that he’s believed he was misled at how easy it would be to get rid of Maduro, and he’s now angry at his own advisers.

And then, just, I think it was, yesterday, Mauricio Claver-Carone, one of the key national security people, said in Colombia, at a meeting there, that he believes that Maduro is totally paranoid and can’t trust anybody and that he can count on one hand the number of people who support Maduro. That’s pretty much at odds with the reality of the facts on the ground, but I’m wondering your take on these recent developments.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think the president is understanding that he was given bad information—the really bad actor in all of this is John Bolton, who is itching for an intervention—and that there has to be a walking back of the U.S. position, because the U.S. has now backed itself against a wall, recognizing somebody who doesn’t have the ability to create the kind of uprising that Trump was told he did. And so, part of our reasoning to be in the embassy is to help facilitate that walking back.

I also want to mention that we have Reverend Jesse Jackson coming to the embassy today, this afternoon at 2:30, with a bunch of religious leaders to say that we need to get food and water into that embassy. And we will also be having a press conference at the U.N. with the Venezuelan government today at 4:00 to talk about the violations of their embassy and how the U.S. must respect the Vienna Conventions.

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