On May 16, the U.S. government committed a major violation of international law that was barely reported in the mainstream media. Federal agents broke down the door to the Venezuelan Embassy, arrested and removed the people living inside (at the invitation of the Venezuelan government). The Trump administration then handed the building over to an operative chosen by the United States to represent the country with no legal standing in Venezuela itself. Under international law — 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, articles 22 and 45 — a host country is prohibited from invasion or interference with another nation’s embassies, and is in fact obligated to defend it. 

The arrests of the anti-war activists culminated a dramatic five-week standoff that pitted the U.S. antiwar activists inside and outside the embassy, against the Trump administration and a group of Venezuelan coup-supporters living in the United States — many of them connected to the military-industrial complex and foreign policy think tanks. 

For weeks, the Secret Service and Washington, D.C. police stood idly by while right in front of them these well-off Venezuelans harassed and attacked anti-war activists, destroyed or stole their property, vandalized the embassy and broke into it. They barricaded the entrances so as to starve out those inside, and cut off the electricity and the water to complete their siege. While dueling rallies took place on an almost nightly basis outside, the embassy protectors held firm inside, supplied by a trickle of food deliveries that found their way in through creative means. The government finally broke down the doors and took the activists out by force. 

Background to the embassy struggle

On January 23, the Trump administration declared via Twitter that self-proclaimed “president” Juan Guaidó was now the president of Venezuela. Guaidó was a legislator previously unknown to the vast majority of Venezuelans. He held his right hand up at a protest, declared himself president, and said President Nicolás Maduro’s days were numbered as head of state and called for a mass uprising to overthrow the government — which never materialized. 

That same night in January, U.S. anti-war activists rallied outside the Venezuelan Embassy against the coup attempt to declare “Hands Off Venezuela,” and then again in actions across the country in January and February. A mass rally of 1,500 gathered outside the White House on March 16, initiated by the ANSWER Coalition to denounce the plans for yet another war for oil. 

Both countries recalled their ambassadors, and the Trump administration increased its deadly and punishing sanctions aimed at stopping Venezuela from selling its oil or buying food and medicine. 

Trump gave a deadline for the remaining embassy staff in D.C. to leave the country. In the meantime, the Venezuelan Embassy opened its doors for a range of activities and teach-ins about the Trump administration’s real designs in Venezuela, and the history of U.S. imperialism in Latin America. Before leaving, the embassy staff gave the keys to a group of activists calling themselves the Embassy Protection Collective and left them in charge. 

A coup for oil 

In 2002, the United States first tried to overthrow the socialist-oriented Bolivarian Revolution, which began under Hugo Chávez in the late 1990s. That military coup was defeated by a mass mobilization of poor and working-class people to defend their elected government. 

In the years that followed, the Venezuelan government won dozens of elections monitored by international observers. It won because it carried out massive redistribution efforts that delivered food, health care, education and more to large sections of society who had never enjoyed the country’s vast oil wealth. 

As the revolution deepened, and started to inspire other movements across Latin America, so grew the hostility of the Venezuelan rich, the media conglomerates and the United States. They attempted new tactics like strikes and sabotage of the oil industry. Internationally the Western press presented Chávez as a dictator despite his many electoral victories. 

The Obama administration issued an executive order falsely calling Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat ” to national security, which sanctioned government officials. When Trump took off f ice, he immediately started expanding these sanctions and mused publicly about an invasion. 

These war mongers say they are concerned about a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, but they are really interested in the country’s oil reserves. Trump’s top foreign policy advisor John Bolton admitted this in an interview on Fox Business saying, “it will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” 

If the Trump administration really cared about Venezuelans, why is he putting Central American refugees and children in cages at the southern border? Why would he be enforcing a sanctions regime that, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, killed over 40,000 Venezuelans? Sanctions are a tool of economic war, and the Trump administration’s plan — defended by many within the Democratic establishment who pretend to offer “resistance” — is to try and inflict economic suffering on the people of Venezuela to make the dream of a coup turn to reality. 

What is obscured in press coverage are the mass rallies that are happening regularly in Venezuela in support of the government. While the economic crisis is real, large numbers of Venezuelans believe they are victims of an economic war which includes the U.S. sanctions, the manipulation of their currency exchange rate, as well as the sabotage and hoarding conducted by big businesses and importers. They reject the coup by Guiadó and Trump, are determined to defend their Revolution and their independence, and have expressed messages of solidarity to those inside the United States organizing to stop a war on their country.