By Leni Villagomez Reeves
The trial of the Embassy Protectors—the four U.S. citizens who stayed in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., for 37 days to prevent it from being handed over to leaders of the attempted coup—will begin on Feb. 11. Adrienne Pine, David Paul, Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese are facing federal charges punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine each, with possible additional costs as “restitution” for the police costs of arresting them.
Judge Beryl Howell was to decide what facts could be presented at the trial in a pretrial hearing on Jan. 29. On Dec. 13, the judge denied the defense’s discovery motions, restricting the scope of the trial greatly. Now the state prosecutors want to limit the presentation of the facts still more to make sure that the jury has no real information about the case it is judging.
What the Prosecutors Want to Hide from the Jury
The prosecutors do not want jurors to know that Nicolás Maduro is the democratically elected president of Venezuela.
The prosecutors do not want the jury to know that the Embassy Protectors were inside the embassy with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela, so recognized not only under Venezuelan law but also by the United Nations.
According to Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, foreign embassies should be protected by the U.S. government and their space should not be violated by the U.S. government. The jury is not supposed to know that either.
The Embassy Protectors told the police on May 13 that they would leave the embassy when the protecting powers agreements were reached. One day before the arrest, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations held a press conference at the United Nations where he explained they were in discussion for Switzerland to be the protector of the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela and Turkey to be the protector of the Venezuelan Embassy in the United States.
He added that the Embassy Protectors were in the embassy with Venezuela’s permission. The arrests were made on May 14 prior to the completion of these negotiations. None of this information will be made available to the jury, if the government prosecutors’ motion is approved.
Prosecutors want to conceal from the jury that the protectors were under siege, surrounded by a pro-coup mob that the police allowed to destroy doors and windows, deface the embassy and break into the building. They were also permitted to threaten the protectors and block food from going into the embassy, while the U.S. government shut off the power and water.
Just the Facts—All of Them
If Judge Howell grants the prosecutorial motion in limine (a request that certain testimony be excluded), no facts at all other than the presence of the four Embassy Protectors in the embassy and the police order to leave will be presented in this trial. The defense will not be permitted to introduce surrounding facts, context and the reason for their presence.
On Dec. 13, the judge’s actions demonstrated an inclination toward the government view and a reluctance to explore the questionable legality of the order to vacate the embassy and the demonstrable illegality of the police entry into a foreign embassy. It would not be a surprise if Judge Howell granted the prosecutors’ motion on Jan. 29.
Although only four remained to be arrested, more than 70 people helped defend the Venezuelan embassy during those 37 days. They went without light and water after those were cut off and without food after food deliveries were blocked by mobs with police complicity. They acted in solidarity with the people of Venezuela, who were successfully defending their nation from a right-wing U.S.-sponsored coup.
Maduro is still the president of Venezuela.
In May 2018, Maduro was reelected as president of Venezuela, with 67.845% of the votes; many opposition candidates and their supporters chose to boycott the elections and turnout was just above 46% (for comparison, the turnout in the U.S. 2016 election was just above 58%).
Many of the opposition candidates centered their campaigns on the economic difficulties Venezuela has increasingly faced since the United States, in December 2014, imposed sanctions severely restricting Venezuela’s ability to engage in commerce with U.S.-influenced and U.S.-controlled economies around the world. Venezuela’s economy is based on oil exports, so international commerce is essential.
Failed Coup Attempt
In January 2019, the Venezuelan National Assembly, with members of opposition parties in the majority, attempted to set aside the election of Maduro and declare Juan Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, as president of Venezuela. However, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice declared this to be unconstitutional.
On April 30, a group of several dozen military personnel and assorted civilians joined Guaidó in his call for an uprising against Maduro. It was clear that this was a U.S.-backed right-wing attempt to gain control of Venezuela and its oil reserves.
Then U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton was openly directing the attempts to promote uprisings and a military coup. Indeed, the far right in Venezuela has been receiving financial and logistical support from the United States for the past 20 years. The vast majority of the Venezuelan military did not cooperate, however, and remained loyal to their country and its president. The coup attempt failed.
Why the Embassy Protectors Were There
The United States, along with many of its allies, chose to recognize Guaidó as president anyway. Venezuelan assets held in the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and other U.S. banks were turned over to this self-proclaimed “president.”
On April 24, the United States revoked the status of the Venezuelan diplomats in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington D.C., and ordered them to leave the embassy and the country. Carlos Vecchio, Guaidó’s “U.S. ambassador” was “accepted” (or appointed) by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and was expected to take over the embassy.
The Embassy Protection Collective began living at the embassy with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela on April 10 to protect it from an illegal takeover by Venezuela’s opposition.
(Author’s note: Thanks to Ajamu Baraka and Bahman Azad for assistance with this article. For more information, visit https://defendembassyprotectors.org/home/).
Leni Villagomez Reeves is a local physician and activist. Contact her at email@example.com.