Guaidó Officials Rally at Venezuelan Embassy in Washington as a Stalemate Ends

WASHINGTON — Two Venezuelan diplomats on Thursday effectively ended a singular standoff that has been simmering on a quiet Washington side street since April.

In a brief statement to a crowd of supporters, Carlos Vecchio, the ambassador appointed by the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and Gustavo Tarre, who represents the Guaidó administration at the Organization of American States, celebrated the eviction of four activists who were the last of a larger group that had occupied the Venezuelan Embassy in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington for over a month.

Prompted by the Trump administration’s recognition of Mr. Guaidó’s government, diplomatic officials representing President Nicolás Maduro were expelled last month.

In the weeks since, however, a small but dedicated group of activists, including members of Code Pink, moved inside, using the building as a site to protest American pressure on Mr. Maduro’s government, as well as foreign intervention more generally. While there, the activists hung banners and covered windows with political slogans.

The demonstration drew the ire of supporters of Mr. Guaidó, and Venezuelans objected to the presence of activists in the embassy. Over recent weeks, several dozen protesters surrounded the building to demand the activists leave, blocking anyone from bringing food and water inside.

As days wore on, most of the activists inside trickled out, helping those remaining to ration supplies. But earlier Thursday, federal authorities and Washington police officers abruptly entered the embassy and removed four individuals, leaving it vacant. The eviction came just over a week after Pepco, the power utility, cut off electricity to the building, ostensibly to coerce those remaining into leaving voluntarily.

“This is an important step,” Mr. Vecchio said of the activists’ removal, “but it’s not enough.”

“We need to keep to our main objective, which is to end the usurpation of power in Venezuela, which is to recover our democracy,” he said.

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A small but dedicated group of activists, including members of Code Pink, had been occupying the embassy in protest.CreditT.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Mr. Vecchio also expressed thanks to the Trump administration and the Venezuelan diaspora for their support, and compared the government of Mr. Maduro to a “mafia.”

The dissonance of a Venezuelan diplomatic compound being occupied by a group of predominantly white, American, anti-interventionist activists had been a source of resentment among the predominantly Venezuelan protesters who had surrounded the embassy, forming a small tent city. But it also raised questions about the legal grounds for United States law enforcement to enter the building and clear the way for the staff of a leader who is still on the margins of power in his home country.

Activists occupying the building were initially invited in as guests, and simply stayed on when officials from Mr. Maduro’s government left after their visas expired. Maduro administration officials quickly condemned the arrests on Thursday as a violation of international norms and the Vienna Convention.

Mr. Vecchio and Mr. Tarre were warmly received by a large group of supporters, many of whom said they upended their professional lives in recent weeks to protest at the embassy.

But they were also met by a diverse group of detractors, who booed throughout the statement and who largely viewed Mr. Guaidó’s government as trying to overturn an election.

“That was a P.R. effort to legitimize what is U.S. support for a radical political minority in Venezuela,” said Rob Zolitor, a Navy veteran who joined the protest on Thursday.

“I don’t want to see us get bogged down in another war of choice to support questionable political programs in foreign countries,” he said.

Mr. Vecchio said that the building would not be ready for use until the damage inside had been assessed. But he added that it would be used in the meantime to collect humanitarian aid for Venezuelan citizens.

Source: NYT

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