Code Pink occupies Venezuela embassy, object to conditions experienced by Venezuelans

The lights went out at the embassy of Venezuela Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. The embassy’s electricity was turned off by the local power company, Pepco, and the building’s owners. The move is an attempt to oust the protesters who have occupied the premises for more than a month.

How long will it be before members of Code Pink leave the building? The far-left group known for bringing drama and theatrics to protests ended their occupancy of the embassy, which began on April 10 at the invitation of Maduro government officials. Apparently, the group prefers the creature comforts of electrical service and water. Given that this is the situation that Venezuelans have to cope with every day at the hands of Nicolas Maduro, Code Pink’s complaints ring hollow.

Senator Marco Rubio noted the irony with a tweet later in the day Thursday.

Residents of the embassy’s neighborhood in Georgetown cheered when the embassy went dark. Code Pink’s leader, Medea Benjamin, claimed the utility bills were paid in full by the Maduro government. Pepco, however, told activists that the opposition party ordered the power to be shut off.

“The owner of the building told them to turn off the electricity and then we were told that they say the owner of the building is Carlos Vecchio,” Benjamin said, referring to the Guaidó-appointed U.S. ambassador. “It is the government of Maduro that has been paying all the bills all along for this building, including the Pepco bill, which is up to date.”

Pepco declined to comment on why the electricity was turned off, saying it doesn’t comment on individual properties or customers.

Frustration has been building over the last couple of weeks due to the arrival of Guaido supporters protesting the occupation outside the embassy. Local residents have voiced complaints about the chaos in the neighborhood as the two groups clash. The embassy is in a four-story building on a normally quiet street in an upscale area. Since April 10, it’s been the site of a proxy power struggle between the supporters of Maduro and those of Guaido. Ten protesters have been arrested during the past week on simple assault charges. Both sides accuse the other of acts of violence. Loud music is blasted at all hours of the day and night from the embassy and protesters use megaphones during scuffles.

The occupiers also include Answer Coalition, Popular Resistance and Black Alliance for Peace. They call themselves the Embassy Protection Collective. Venezuela’s diplomats left last month when their visas expired. A water department spokesperson denied that water was shut off to the embassy. The occupiers have refused to allow Carlos Vecchio, the Guaidó-appointed, Trump-credentialed ambassador into the building. The doors to the building have been padlocked to keep Guaido supporters out.

Meanwhile, among the confusion over who’s in charge here, Maduro Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza says the occupiers are welcome to stay. He continues to support the anti-interventionists. In a speech on April 26, Arreaza railed against Guaido supporters trying to enter the premises, a move he called illegal.

“How crazy would it be to enter [the embassy] illegally,” referencing potential U.S. government efforts to evict the activist groups. “Have we proposed doing that in the U.S. Embassy here in Caracas? Never.” (The U.S. Embassy in Caracas has been closed since the State Department withdrew its diplomats from there in mid-March.) Meanwhile, in Venezuela, Maduro’s government has overseen a sharp and widely documented decline in political rights, civil liberties and freedom of expression—hardly an indication that the government has much popular support.

The protests of both sides have devolved into a hodgepodge of social justice issues. The Code Pink crowd calls the other side fascist thugs and the pro-Guaido people say they are physically assaulted by the supporters of Maduro. There’s a little something for everyone.

On the ground outside the embassy, though, the often chaotic crowd tells a different story about who is in control—or isn’t. Some antiwar activists accuse the Venezuelans of being right-wing, fascist thugs, and the opposition protesters’ yells are sometimes punctuated with racism, sexism and homophobia. Gold has accused a pro-Guaidó activist of sexual harassment, while Venezuelans have denounced a leftist who pushed back against a pregnant woman. At night, sirens blare almost constantly from opposition megaphones, and some Venezuelans have been seen shining flashlights and strobe lights into leftists’ eyes.

The responses from elected officials in Washington are not so easily drawn according to party lines in this mess, either. Most Republicans embrace Guaido as the rightful leader of Venezuela while Democrats cautiously walk a fine line.

Republicans have been nearly united in their staunch support of economic and sometimes military action, but Democrats have not been as quick to react. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Donna Shalala of Florida have met with Vecchio and sent messages of support, but progressives have been more cautious. Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar has been outspoken on the issue, blaming Venezuela’s current problems on past U.S. interventions and opposing both sanctions and regime change in a recent interview. In response, Vice President Mike Pence took quickly to Twitter to say that Omar “doesn’t know what she’s talking about” on Venezuela. In recent weeks, Bernie Sanders’ and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s equivocating answers on whether Maduro or Guaidó is the legitimate president have drawn widespread condemnation.

Now that the level of comfort inside the embassy is plummeting, we’ll see how long it takes for the coalition inside to call off the occupation.