The trial for four members of the Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective (EPC) ended in a hung jury, a clear failure on the part of the government to prove their ludicrous charges against the defendants. The “Embassy Protectors”– Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, Adrienne Pine, and David Paul– are going up against federal prosecutors who are eager to see the Protectors convicted to the fullest extent of the law. It remains to be seen whether or not prosecutors will seek to retry the case, a risky move that would further expose the coup-backing policies of the U.S. government to legal scrutiny.
These four protectors were arrested on May 16, 2019, after spending about five weeks inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. to defend it from being taken over by a right wing mob that supported the U.S.-backed coup attempt led by Juan Guaidó against President Nicolás Maduro and the revolutionary process that he leads.
Flowers, Paul, Pine, and Zeese were the last activists remaining inside the Embassy when the U.S. Marshall Services stormed in and made arrests. The Protectors faced up to a year in federal prison and up to $100,000 in fines each. Throughout the trial, activists from across the region attended the DC trial to show their solidarity with the Embassy Protectors.
“[The four Protectors] are facing serious charges,” says anti-war activist Kei Pritsker, a member of the Embassy Protection Collective, “so it’s wonderful to see them continuing the fight against imperialism in the face of these charges.” Pritsker spent two weeks inside the Venezuelan Embassy after pro-coup protesters laid siege to the building in late April.
One building becomes the center of an international struggle
Embassy Protection Collective activists were officially invited to stay in the Embassy by the Bolivarian government of Venezuela on April 10, 2019, after the U.S. State Department’s announcement that all Venezuelan diplomats would be forced to leave the country. The move was a sign that the United States wanted to seize the building as part of an attempt to oust Venezuelan President Maduro in favor of the obscure Juan Guaidó.
On January 23, 2019, Guaidó– who according to opinion polls was unknown to the vast majority of Venezuelans at the time– declared himself president of the country. The U.S. government immediately announced its support for “interim president” Guaidó, despite the fact that Maduro had been re-elected for a second term with roughly 67 percent of votes just a few months prior.
Despite the total backing of the U.S. empire and its allies, Guaidó’s coup did not take off as planned in Venezuela. As the coup waned within the country, Guaidó and his U.S. allies focused more and more on seizing Venezuelan assets abroad in a desperate attempt to prove the legitimacy of the coup “government”.
As part of this effort, pro-coup groups in D.C. laid siege on the building, attempting to prevent Protectors inside from leaving or from getting food and medicine inside. Later, D.C. electric and water companies shut off the building’s utilities. Police around the embassy were quick to arrest Protectors on the outside, but allowed the right-wing mob to carry out assault with impunity and to hurl racist slurs and threats of sexual violence on a regular basis towards opponents of the coup.
Embassy Protectors maintain these actions constituted flagrant violations of international law on the part of the U.S. government, since they are legally considered property of the Venezuelan government.
“The struggle at the embassy began because the US government refused to protect Venezuelan diplomatic buildings from seizure,” says Kei Pritsker. “[which] the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations requires them to do.” The Vienna Convention protects diplomatic property of governments located in foreign countries.
Ultimately, the arrest of the four protectors marked the end of the struggle, as US authorities handed over the building to the “interim government” led by Guaidó.
Today, the elected Nicolas Maduro is still in power, and arguably stronger than before the coup attempts. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan opposition is completely fractured, and Guaidó still holds no real power in the country. As for the embassy in Georgetown, the building is effectively defunct, as Guaido’s functionaries have no ability to carry out diplomatic functions.