For the first time since the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington shut down amid an international power struggle over the future of Venezuela, an ambassador representing opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Wednesday stood on the building’s front steps.
Carlos Vecchio spoke of the intense protests and violence gripping the troubled South American nation as the conflict played out in real time over loudspeakers and megaphones in Washington’s posh Georgetown neighborhood. The embassy itself has become the scene of a proxy standoff between supporters of Guaidó and those who say Nicolás Maduro is the rightful leader of Venezuela.
As Vecchio spoke — a microphone in his right hand, a megaphone in his left — protesters with the left-wing activist group Code Pink leaned out a second-story window of the embassy, chanting “Hands off Venezuela” and “Trump’s stooge” into a speaker of their own. The crowd below chanted “Guaidó” and “Hands off my embassy.”
“It’s a relief to be here and actually hear him address the Venezuelan diaspora,” said Gabriela Febres, 28, who owns the D.C. restaurant Arepa Zone. “I think we got the answers we were looking for. . . . Now, we have become the resistance movement. And we will continue to guard our embassy.”
As thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, where violent clashes Tuesday lead to dozens of injuries and the death of a 25-year-old man, protesters in Washington squared off along metal barricades blocking the entrance to the locked-down embassy for a second straight day.
On one side, a group of activists from Code Pink and other left-wing organizations have been living inside the embassy since April 10 at the invitation of the Maduro government. On Tuesday, they sat on the embassy steps and sang American protest songs, holding yellow signs that read “No to U.S. coup plots” and “Hands off Venezuela!”
On the other side of the barricades, pro-opposition demonstrators decked out in yellow, red and blue filled the streets. They chanted, “libertad,” meaning “freedom,” and sang the Venezuelan national anthem.
On Tuesday, officers separated the two sides as they shouted through megaphones and speakers.
The next day, the officers surrounded Vecchio and his supporters, walking with them to an Uber as journalists and pro-Maduro protesters chased them down the brick sidewalk.
A Secret Service spokeswoman said Wednesday evening the agency’s officers had been at the embassy for 48 hours, providing a “police presence” and ensuring the safety of protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.
Code Pink members said Wednesday they would no longer sit in a vigil at the embassy’s front steps after an overnight clash left one of their own injured and an opposition supporter entered the embassy. The group said it had no intention of leaving.
“We will be staying inside today for our own safety. And no matter what happens outside, we’ll be here, doing our daily cleaning, having meetings and doing our work to peacefully hold this building,” said Ariel Gold, the organization’s national co-director. “For the sake of democracy and international law, we will remain in this building.”
No one was arrested in protests through Wednesday evening.
For nearly 12 hours Tuesday, pro-opposition protesters — largely Venezuelan immigrants and Venezuelan Americans — taunted activists inside the building by demanding they speak Spanish and drawing a stark contrast between the Americans living inside the locked embassy and the Venezuelan nationals protesting in the street.
At its peak, Tuesday’s protest drew several hundred Guaidó supporters to 30th Street NW, which police blocked off for more than seven hours.
Code Pink has for weeks worried that the United States would try to evict its members from the building. U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams has said the group is breaking the law and will eventually have to leave.
But this week, members asserted their right to stay in the face of booing crowds.
Though the number changes night by night, about 50 people have been living inside the embassy for three weeks, Gold said. No Venezuelan nationals have lived inside since Venezuelan government staffers were forced to leave their posts when their visas expired in mid-April.
Opposition supporters seized on the optics of American protesters occupying a building that, they repeatedly said, belongs to the Venezuelan people.
“We are here and we are protecting this embassy for the rightfully, democratically elected leader of Venezuela,” Margaret Flowers, co-director of left-wing activist group Popular Resistance, said into a microphone. “That’s Nicolás Maduro.”
“Qué?” shouted a woman. “No entiendo.”
“En español,” said another.
Nearby, Ana Galayes held up her Venezuelan identification card in defiance.
Carla Bustillos took to the megaphone to recount her days as a student protester in the streets of Caracas more than a decade ago. Several counterprotesters wore blue ribbons and bandannas around their arms, a symbol of support for Guaidó’s opposition government.
Victoria Mattiuzzo held up a handmade sign that said, “Take your ignorance off my country.”
“The irony of U.S. citizens holding signs that say ‘hands off Venezuela’ as they are here usurping our embassy,” said Mattiuzzo, 32, who moved to the District from Venezuela four years ago. “You can’t make that up.”
Nearby, protesters danced and clapped to the steady beat of wooden spoons on pots and pans. They waved Venezuelan flags and sang songs over those of Code Pink’s members.
“This is a catharsis for us,” said José Esparza, 73. “It is very important for the people who have occupied our embassy illegally to see us Venezuelans out here, standing up for our country.”