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Venezuelan Government Denounces US Seizure of Embassy, Arrest of Peace Activists as Violation of Vienna Convention

"We do not authorize any of the coup leaders to enter our embassy in Washington D.C.," said deputy foreign minister on behalf of Maduro government

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Peace activists lived at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. for more than a month in hopes of blocking the Trump administration from turning it over to supporters of an effort to oust the country's elected president. (Photo: Jeremy Bigwood)

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.

"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."

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."

"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.

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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."

"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."

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