A group of American activists who lived inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington for more than a month amid round-the-clock protests and occasional violent clashes were honored in Caracas this week by President Nicolás Maduro.
The activists, who dubbed themselves the Embassy Protection Collective, occupied the embassy for about 36 days before federal law enforcement officers pried open the door and forcibly removed the final four demonstrators May 16, ending a proxy struggle for control over the country’s diplomatic mission in the United States.
Dozens of demonstrators from organizations such as Code Pink, the Answer Coalition, Black Alliance for Peace and Popular Resistance moved into the embassy April 10 at the invitation of Maduro’s government. They saw themselves as the embassy’s last line of defense against U.S. forces and representatives of the Venezuelan opposition party led by Juan Guaidó, recognized by the United States and about 50 other nations as the country’s interim president.
For weeks outside the embassy, dozens of Venezuelans and Venezuelan Americans from a group dubbed Ask a Venezuelan held demonstrations aimed at ousting the activists.
On Wednesday, Maduro tweeted photos and video of his visit with the activists, who arrived in Caracas during the São Paulo Forum, a gathering of regional leftist politicians and activists.
Maduro grinned as he posed for pictures with the group, shook each person’s hands and gave them gifts to bring back to the United States, including a book on South American revolutionary Simón Bolívar and a replica of Bolívar’s sword from 1821.
“I want to give you this saber as a token of our gratitude,” Maduro said as an interpreter translated to English. “It’s a beautiful saber, a saber of freedom, peace, independence and victory . . . It’s a symbol of eternal unity between the people of the United States and the people of Venezuela.”
Maduro held out the sword and invited the activists to hold it with him.
“Long live the union between the people of the United States and Venezuela,” Maduro said. “Long live peace.”
“And socialism,” said Ben Norton, a journalist with the Grayzone, a far-left media outlet.
“And socialism,” Maduro echoed.
The show of solidarity comes days after the United States imposed sanctions on three of Maduro’s stepsons, who the country has accused of helping to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from food import contracts amid a humanitarian crisis that has sent millions fleeing the troubled South American nation.
Carlos Vecchio, who represents Guaidó's opposition government as its U.S. ambassador, said this week that both governments will resume negotiations aimed at resolving the political standoff that has continued for months.
Opposition leaders have called for a change in leadership and fair elections after decrying Maduro’s reelection last year as a sham. Maduro, meanwhile, has resisted calls to step down and accused his opponents of inciting violence.
Margaret Flowers, 56; Adrienne Pine, 48; David Paul, 69; and Kevin Zeese, 63 — the final holdouts who were pulled from the embassy and arrested by federal agents on charges of interfering with State Department diplomatic protective functions — did not attend the ceremony at Miraflores, Venezuela’s presidential palace.
Neither did Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who has for months said the action at the embassy was a stand against U.S. intervention and imperialism, rather than a show of support for Maduro. Still, Benjamin said, she supported the visit.
“It was a unique opportunity for the group to meet [Maduro] and listen to him without the filter of the U.S. mainstream media,” she wrote in a text message Wednesday.
Freddy Cova, a member of Ask A Venezuelan, said seeing the activists exchange hugs and kisses with Maduro has changed how he sees the demonstrators.
“At some point, I think I said that I didn’t think they were doing it because they were bad people — I believed they really thought they were doing the right thing,” Cova said. “But by being down there, they’re basically saying it’s okay for the Maduro regime to commit all the atrocities that they’re committing against the Venezuelan people. They’re down there supporting a dictator.”
The Venezuelan government did not respond to a request for comment.