Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Ron on Thursday urged the Trump administration not to hand over the country's embassy in Washington, D.C. to leaders of an attempted coup after U.S. law enforcement forcibly removed peace activists who have lived there for since last month as guests of President Nicolás Maduro's government.
"We denounce these arrests, as the people inside were there with our permission, and we consider it a violation of the Vienna Conventions," Ron said in statement.
Four members of the Embassy Protection Collective were arrested Thursday—David Paul of CodePink, Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance, and Adrienne Pine, a professor who wrote an op-ed for Common Dreams about why she participated in the effort to protect the embassy.
It’s over, folks. The Embassy Protection Collective @codepink @answercoalition’s final four were arrested around 9am today, and they were physically removed from the back of the embassy around 11. Officers wearing tactical gear (but no long guns) made the arrests. pic.twitter.com/c4Q0werseX
— Ford Fischer (@FordFischer) May 16, 2019
"We do not authorize any of the coup leaders to enter our embassy in Washington D.C.," Ron said. "We call on the U.S. government to respect the Vienna Conventions and sign a Protecting Power Agreement with us that would ensure the integrity of both our embassy in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Embassy in Caracas."
Let it be clear. The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not authorize the entrance of any US law enforcement officers into our former Embassy building in Washington. Any such entrance is an unlawful breach of the Vienna Convention.
— Carlos Ron (@CarlosJRonVE) May 16, 2019
Mara Verheyden Hilliard, an attorney for the Embassy Protection Collective, said activists were charged with "interference with certain protective functions," which a State Department spokesperson confirmed to the Washington Post.
"It is notable that they were not charged with trespassing," she added, "which makes it perfectly clear that the U.S. government does not want to be in the position of having to explain who is lawfully in charge of these premises."
#BREAKING | Lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard confirms that #UnitedStates police forces have illegally invaded the Venezuelan embassy in #WashingtonDC, arresting the 4 remaining activists of the #EmbassyProtectionCollective, "violating" the Vienna Convention. #HandsOffVenezuela pic.twitter.com/WXXdPVjJPd
— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) May 16, 2019
"The fact that the State Department has broken into a protected diplomatic mission to arrest the peace activists inside is something that will have repercussions the world over," Hilliard warned.
CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who participated in the embassy protection effort, concurred. She told Common Dreams in an email that it also "represents a dangerous new level of escalation of U.S. interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela."
The arrests came after weeks of tension between the Embassy Protection Collective and supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó who gathered outside. In January, Guaidó claimed Maduro's latest election was a sham and declared himself interim president.
Although Guaidó is backed by Trump administration and dozens of other governments around the world, his efforts to oust Maduro have failed. In recent days, Guaidó has openly called for foreign military intervention to overthrow the Maduro government.
Meanwhile, U.S. law enforcement has tried to force the activists out of the embassy in D.C., so it can be turned over to Carlos Vecchio, a Guaidó appointee who announced on Twitter that he planned to take control of the property Thursday afternoon.
As Common Dreams reported last week, "police in Washington, D.C. and Secret Service agents cut water and electricity to the Venezuelan Embassy," in what critics condemned as a "dangerous and appalling" effort to pressure the activists to leave.
On Tuesday, according to the Post, "police issued a warning to the activists via megaphone, saying that those inside must leave 'immediately' and that 'any person who refuses...will be trespassing in violation of federal and District of Columbia laws.'"
Despite the arrests, Benjamin said Thursday that the Embassy Protection Collective "will continue to fight to stop this embassy from being handed over by the Guaidó supporters."
Though the four remaining embassy protectors were arrested today, the fight for the Venezuelan embassy and to defend international law continues. Come tonight from 6 to 8 PM in solidarity with the #EmbassyProtectionCollective and the Venezuelan people resisting US imperialism!
— CODEPINK (@codepink) May 16, 2019
"We will continue to use all methods at our disposal to keep the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. empty," Benjamin vowed, "until a diplomatic solution—a Protecting Power Agreement—can be worked out between the U.S. and the Venezuelan governments."