Activists Adrienne Pine, David Paul, Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese have been charged with interfering with certain federal protective functions - a euphemism for failing to vacate the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC, so that the Trump administration could hand it over to Guaido, Venezuela’s self-proclaimed “interim president.”
Wyatt Reed, producer of By Any Means Necessary and a journalist who covered the Embassy Protection Collective, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Tuesday that even though the activists were arrested in violation of international law, there stands a decent chance they could still go to jail.
“All four of these embassy protectors are now facing up to a year in prison if these charges go through,” Reed told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou, noting the “bogus charges” also carry a hefty fine of $100,000.
This, Reed noted, is an outlandish sum to demand from the working-class people of Washington who defended the left-wing Venezuelan government’s facilities.
The four activists were arrested and released in May 2019 following a 37-day defense of the embassy in Washington’s Georgetown district. Invited by the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to become the facility’s caretakers after its diplomats departed, the activists maintained their presence was legal and that the Trump administration had no legal authority to seize the facility, since under the 1961 Vienna Convention, diplomatic facilities are inviolable.
However, the Trump administration thought otherwise and provided de facto support for a group of wealthy Venezuelan expatriates, who laid siege to the embassy in conjunction with an abortive coup attempt in Caracas by Guaido on April 30. When the activists refused to leave even after electricity and water were cut and their access to food restricted, the Secret Service executed a SWAT-style raid to arrest the four who remained.
However, with Maduro still firmly in control in Caracas, Guaido’s assumptive diplomats have no authority to renew visas or perform other embassy functions, and the facility has fallen into disrepair.
“If you walk past this embassy today, there’s nobody in it; it’s completely uninhabited. They’re letting wild animals, rats and stuff, run amok in there,” Reed told Sputnik. “There’s no climate control. The archives have been completely destroyed, from what I’ve heard. So it’s the exact opposite type of attitude that they’re demonstrating toward this diplomatic facility as the Embassy Protection Collective, who was there every day cleaning up after one another, keeping the plants watered, cleaning everything in the facility, making sure that it would be able to be returned to the Venezuelan government in pristine condition.”
“It really speaks to the total farce this trial seems to be that they are really just fishing for whatever charges they can come up with. And even if it doesn’t actually succeed, it’s sort of like the trial of journalist Max Blumenthal and Ben Rubinstein: they’ve succeeded at wasting everybody’s time over these nonsensical charges. At this point now, it seems like there is a substantial chance that people will go to jail over these cooked-up charges,” Reed said.
Egregious fines have also been imposed on other activists who have challenged US imperialism, including former US Army analyst Chelsea Manning, who has had fines of potentially as high as $441,000 imposed on her by a Virginia grand jury in a bid to force her to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
DC police have also attempted to prosecute other activists from the collective and journalists who covered the event, including Rubinstein, an activist at the embassy; Blumenthal, the editor of The Grayzone; and Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin. In all three cases, the charges were dropped.
Becker, who is the national co-director of anti-war group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), which helped form the Embassy Protection Collective, noted that the activists had intervened in international politics “in a decisive manner,” denying Guaido a key political victory at a time he desperately needed it.
Reed noted the right-wing Venezuelans who laid siege to the embassy in May continue to harass the activists, with several appearing outside the DC courthouse where the trial was beginning with a jury selection. He noted that because “we were better organized and got there extremely early,” only four opposition members were able to get into the courtroom before entry was barred.
“They continue to harass people, they kept referring to me as having ‘an inferior mind,’ calling everyone ‘feeble-minded,’” Reed said. “It shows you the position that they’re in, where they’re really just there to harass people, annoy people, gum up the works and cause whatever sort of provocation they can.”
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.