Four US activists protecting Venezuela's embassy in Washington, DC face prison time after the Trump administration illegally arrested them. And now a judge's ruling blocking discovery will result in a farcical trial where the jury will not be allowed to consider the contentious legality of the coup.
Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective wins legal victory in face of hostile Obama-appointed judge & govt prosecution
The sentencing of the final four from the Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective marked another defeat for Juan Guaidó and his DC-based coup administration. Prior to handing it down, however, an Obama-appointed judge delivered an unhinged law-and-order tirade denigrating the defendants.
By Anya Parampil
On the morning of June 3, four U.S. citizens from the Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective (EPC) who engaged in a two-week-long standoff with right-wing Venezuelan exile hooligans and members of Juan Guaidó’s coup administration entered a plea agreement with the U.S. government.
The chief Judge for the U.S. District Court District of Columbia, Beryl Howell, sentenced David Paul, Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, and Adrienne Pine to six months of probation and fines totaling $750 each. Additionally, Judge Howell ordered the four defendants to stay away from the building which formally served as Venezuela’s embassy in Washington D.C., threatening them with 30 day jail terms if they failed to meet the conditions of their probation.
Before sentencing the defendants, Judge Howell delivered an unhinged law-and-order tirade, personally denigrating each of them and declaring her intention to make an example of them in order to prevent future protest actions which challenged U.S. government policy.
The prosecution of the EPC final four resulted in a mistrial in February of this year, when the jurors were unable to reach a verdict. The U.S. government then offered to drop the charges in order to avoid a re-trial. Under the negotiated deal, all four defendants pleaded guilty to a low-level, Class B misdemeanor charge of “incommoding,” which falls under local D.C. jurisdiction, in exchange for the dropping of federal charges which had alleged they interfered with the ability of U.S. authorities to provide protective services on embassy grounds.
“I proudly pleaded guilty to obstructing imperialism, neoliberal fascism and white supremacy, and will continue to stand alongside the Venezuelan people and other targets of U.S. military and police violence at home and abroad,” Adrienne Pine, an American University Professor of Anthropology, told The Grayzone shortly following the court’s announcement.
“As the deadly violence of militarized police forces around this country over the past week in particular have made abundantly clear, now more than ever we must draw attention to the inextricable links between imperialist violence and the violence against brown, black and indigenous communities here in the United States. I would not think twice if given the chance again to put my body on the line against such racist violence, which has already killed so many of my friends,” Pine added.
Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician and organizer with Popular Resistance who was arrested in the embassy, told The Grayzone she is “proud of all of the people in the Embassy Protection Collective and the ongoing work to build international solidarity and demand our country become a positive participant in the global community, not an exploiter and aggressor.”
An unhinged law-and-order tirade by an Obama-appointed judge
Flowers and Pine’s reactions stood in stark contrast to the unhinged and downright inaccurate lecture Judge Howell delivered shortly before announcing her sentencing decision, during which she expressed confusion as to why U.S. authorities acted with restraint when handling the Embassy Protection Collective.
Throughout Wednesday’s hearing, which this reporter attended through a sometimes difficult to decipher conference call, Judge Howell explained that because she spends most of her days sending poor black and brown people to prison, she was convinced the white and highly educated members of the EPC final four were riding on “privilege” and “entitlement” in order to avoid jail time.
Howell expressed astonishment that U.S. Secret Service and D.C. police had not met the non-violent embassy protectors with an iron fist, suggesting her wish for a Trumpian, military-style assault on the leftist demonstrators. She bizarrely sought to contrast the brutal treatment of protesters on display during the recent wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations with the police’s supposedly velvet-glove handling of the embassy standoff.
Judge Howell was apparently unaware of the numerous instances of police brutality surrounding events at the embassy, particularly the violent arrests police made of Veterans for Peace President Gerry Condon, who attempted to toss a cucumber to protesters inside the embassy, and Dean Murville, an elderly local peace activist who sought to bring toothbrushes to embassy protectors.
More charges dropped against members of the Embassy Protection Collective, this time Veterans for Peace @VFPNational president Gerry Condon. Police brutalized him and charged him with "throwing missiles" after he tossed a cucumber pic.twitter.com/xoNwsjjsYq
Then there were the arrests of embassy protector Ben Rubinstein and Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal. Police arrested both over a phony assault claim fabricated by the Venezuelan opposition, even raiding Blumenthal’s home five months after the manufactured incident was alleged to have taken place. The trumped-up charges were later dropped.
Also apparently lost on Judge Howell was the fact that hundreds of people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds participated in the Embassy Protection Collective in order to show solidarity with the Venezuelan people in the face of U.S. attempts to overthrow their sovereign government and upend international law. U.S. authorities detained and harassed one such activist, Sergio Torres, a Nicaraguan American, when he returned from a visit to Venezuela last summer, and again, on his way back from a visit to family in Nicaragua. As The Grayzone reported at the time, Customs and Border Patrol grilled Torres about the inner workings of the U.S. anti-war movement.
The upper middle class, right-wing and largely white crowd of Venezuelan exiles that gathered outside of the embassy carried out dozens of racist, homophobic and violent attacks against Torres and other members of the EPC, all under the watchful eyes of U.S. authorities. These were the same U.S. authorities which actively blocked food from reaching people inside the embassy, while also shutting off the building’s water and electricity. If such actions constituted restraint in the eyes of Judge Howell, it is frightening to imagine what she might classify as police abuse.
“One reason we were among ‘the final four’ was we were able to take risks that people of Venezuelan or Latin American background could not take. We used our privilege to support the Venezuelan people who would be taking much greater risk,” Kevin Zeese, a lawyer who also organizes with Popular Resistance, explained.
Regardless of Judge Howell’s stunning ignorance, the final four EPC defendants expressed relief that their trial had come to an end.
“I am pleased that we now have resolution to this prosecution, which never should have happened in the first place,” Flowers said. “We were in the Embassy legally and trying to stop our government from violating international law.”
“We will continue to defend the sovereignty of Venezuela against U.S. regime change. While we are pleased to not be serving any time in jail, this trial showed the world the shortcomings of U.S. Courts,” Zeese added. “In that courtroom, [Venezuelan opposition leader] Juan Guaidó was president, when he has never been president for a nanosecond. Jurors were misled.”
David Paul, a retired nurse, reflected upon his experience: “I am glad to be done with this trial, and proud to have been part of the collective effort to take a stand against the criminal behavior of our government. The trial was literally unreal.”
Judge Howell supplemented her outpouring of resentment with the last minute introduction of several “Victim Impact Letters.” Among the supposed victims was Carlos Vecchio, a former lawyer for ExxonMobil who serves as representative of Venezuela’s opposition in the United States, with his salary covered by US taxpayers through the State Department.
In his statement, Vecchio repeatedly denounced the actions of what he called “the Code Pink group” despite the fact none of the defendants in the case were members of CODEPINK, accusing them of “absolutely and totally [preventing] the normal functioning of the consular services of Venezuela in this city.”
Though Vecchio’s letter has not been made public, portions were dictated to this reporter by a trial participant.
Another defeat for Guaidó and the US backed opposition
Although over a year has passed since the U.S. Secret Service forcibly removed the Embassy Protection Collective from Venezuela’s former diplomatic premises in a military-style raid, Vecchio has yet to take control of the building. This could be due to the fact that he answers to no real Foreign Ministry in Caracas, and has no legal authority to provide consular services on behalf of any internationally-recognized government.
When this reporter attended a CODEPINK action outside of the former diplomatic mission on February 20 of this year, a Secret Service agent stationed outside informed me “it’s not an actual working embassy.” His statement, which I captured on video, directly contradicted Vecchio’s claim that embassy protectors prevented him from doing his job – as it appears that Vecchio has no actual job, even to this very day.
Today Venezuelan citizen Leo Flores sought consular services from @carlosvecchio’s embassy in DC
Police told us “it’s not an actual working embassy” 😬
Vecchio provided cover for his personal failures by asserting “the facilities have not been recovered due to the serious deterioration caused by” the EPC, yet provided no evidence of such destruction. An attorney for the defendants reminded the court of the EPC’s demand that D.C. Metropolitan Police perform a videotaped walk-through of the embassy just prior to their arrest to confirm the lack of damage to the facility. Judge Howell lashed out at the U.S. government for its failure to itemize the alleged damage or request restitution for it.
That decision may stem from the risk posed by launching an actual investigation into vandalism at the embassy, which would no doubt reveal that pro-coup activists affiliated with Vecchio were, in fact, responsible for much of the wreckage. Guarding the building from such attacks and upholding its inviolability, as guaranteed by the Vienna Diplomatic Convention, was the stated purpose of the Embassy Protection Collective.
Defending Venezuela’s sovereign diplomatic premises did not appear to be a primary concern for Vecchio, however, when he signed a letter begging the U.S. government for help in removing the EPC from embassy grounds. As this reporter documented in May 2019, Vecchio moved to waive the embassy’s inviolability, going so far as to “waive any and all claims against the U.S. Government related to any and all injury or damage to Embassy property and its contents.”
In his bogus letter requesting help from US gov to illegally remove peace activists from Venezuela’s former embassy, @carlosvecchio absurdly suspended the building’s inviolability & agreed to “waive any & all claims” of damage to its property by US agents! Who does he represent? pic.twitter.com/ee4HzFb2KL
Unfortunately for Vecchio, his total subservience to U.S. authorities was not enough to deliver him a victory in court. Meanwhile, his boss, Juan Guaidó, has been missing in action since late April, when he hired a former U.S. Green Beret to organize a comically botched operation to invade Venezuela and kidnap its democratically-elected president, Nicolas Maduro.
With the Venezuelan coup regime running on empty, the anti-war movement in the United States received a breath of fresh air with this legal victory.
“The failed U.S. response to the pandemic, the systemic violence against people of color, and deadly economic sanctions against other countries all reveal the deep and destructive greed inherent to capitalism, which needs to be challenged everywhere if there is going to be peace in our world,” Paul remarked. “The struggle of the Venezuelan people continues to teach and inspire us in that common effort.”