Law enforcement officers on Monday removed the chains that have for more than a month kept the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington locked shut, hours after posting an eviction notice telling the activists who have been camped inside that they would have to leave.
It was the first step in what many thought would be the forcible removal of the demonstrators, who have been living inside the embassy since April 10. But instead, a stalemate returned.
After clearing the street of protesters — backers of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, as well as left-leaning activists who support embattled President Nicolás Maduro — federal officers and D.C. police opened the front door of the embassy and spoke with the activists inside. Soon after, they shut the doors again and fastened zip ties around the handles.
As of 10 p.m., no activists had been removed from the embassy.
Both sides have made themselves at home in recent weeks — with activists from Code Pink, Popular Resistance and Answer Coalition living inside the embassy since the second week of April and pro-Guaidó demonstrators guarding the building’s entrances and exits since April 30.
It was not immediately clear which agency issued the eviction notice, though Carlos Vecchio, the Guaidó-appointed ambassador who has been recognized by the U.S. government, tweeted Monday that he and his diplomatic team would “announce next steps soon.”
“Ambassadors Vecchio and [Gustavo] Tarre have requested and directed anyone who is present on this property to depart from it immediately, and to not return without these ambassadors’ express authorization,” said the eviction notice, dated May 13. “Any person who refuses to comply with these requests and orders to depart from this property will be trespassing in violation of federal and District of Columbia law and may be arrested and criminally prosecuted.”
Over the past several weeks, pro-Guaidó demonstrators and Code Pink supporters have been locked in a battle for control of the embassy, located in the Georgetown neighborhood.
Pro-Guaidó demonstrators — almost all of whom are Venezuelan or Venezuelan American — have accused the largely American protesters of co-opting the conflict raging in the troubled South American country to promote a political message. They have blocked entrances and exits and kept Code Pink supporters from delivering food to those inside.
Last week, Pepco cut electricity to the building. Over the weekend, demonstrators said the water, too, had been shut off. However, a D.C. Water spokesman said Monday that the agency never stopped service to the building.
The demonstrators inside, meanwhile, have dubbed themselves the “Embassy Protection Collective” and said they were protecting the building from illegal attempts to enter by any group that has not been permitted by the Maduro government.
The group’s numbers have dwindled in recent days, with only a handful remaining Monday.
At the demonstration’s peak, about 50 people were living inside the embassy. But the lack of electricity and limited access to food pushed several people to leave.
“They cannot violate this embassy. This is a coup,” said Kevin Zeese, a co-founder of Popular Resistance, who has been inside since April 10. “Violating this embassy will have terrible repercussions on U.S. embassies around the world. We’re going to resist. We will not go willingly.”