Three protesters were arrested outside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington on Thursday on the third day of an intensifying standoff between backers of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó and left-wing activists who support embattled President Nicolás Maduro.
The pro-Guaidó demonstrators had spent the day grappling to assert control over the embassy’s entrances and exits, prompting activists from Code Pink — who support Maduro and have been living in the embassy for weeks — to issue a call for food and supplies. Code Pink organizers said group members have not been able to pass Venezuelan supporters of Guaidó to deliver provisions to people in the building.
But demonstrators outside said they were not preventing anyone from eating or accessing medicine — they just didn’t want more American citizens to enter and occupy the building.
The embassy, a four-story brick building on a quiet side street in Washington’s elite Georgetown neighborhood, has become the site of a proxy power struggle that mirrors the international fight over the future of Venezuela.
Activists on both sides insisted Thursday that they would not be moved until Venezuelan authorities reclaimed the shuttered embassy, leaving the future of the building — like that of the troubled South American country it represents — in the air.
“This is the second day we’ve camped out here,” said pro-Guaidó demonstrator Freddy Cova. “It’s hard, but we’re not going to leave until they do.”
A State Department spokesman said Thursday that the United States considers the embassy to be the legal property of Guaidó’s interim government and encouraged “remaining unauthorized individuals to vacate the building and to conduct any future protest peacefully and through legal means.”
Carlos Vecchio, the ambassador to the United States appointed by Guaidó, said that the situation at the embassy is delicate and that the Guaidó government is working through official channels to reclaim it. He did not elaborate.
Secret Service officials said the arrests were a response to people “throwing objects” near the embassy. One person was charged with throwing missiles and two with simple assault. After the incident, officers temporarily blocked access to a ramp leading to the embassy. Ariel Gold, the national co-director of Code Pink, was one of the three people arrested, but the identities of the others were not released Thursday.
As officers positioned metal barricades at the embassy’s doors, Code Pink supporters threw food and other supplies toward the building. Activists inside, who have dubbed themselves the “Embassy Protection Collective,” briefly emerged to grab the supplies. Others watched from windows.
Kei Pritsker, 22, a District barista who has been living in the embassy, said the group collected the food but would not comment on how many people remained inside and how long the supplies might sustain them. At least one member of the group was in need of medication and had not been able to receive it, organizers said.
“No one has been able to get into the building. I’ve tried three times, but all the doors are blocked,” said Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin. “But we’re planning to stay. We’ll figure out a way to get food and supplies in to the people who need it.”
Much of the tension has been exacerbated by the fact that those occupying the embassy are largely American protesters given permission to stay there by Maduro’s government. Supporters of the Venezuelan opposition who have gathered outside since Tuesday are largely Venezuelan immigrants and Venezuelan Americans who have displayed their Venezuelan passports and identification cards, occasionally singing the country’s national anthem in the street.
Code Pink members say they represent poor Venezuelans whose voices are not represented by the expatriate Venezuelans gathered at the embassy.
“Even if we are evicted from this building, this is not the end,” said Kevin Zeese, co-founder of activist group Popular Resistance. “We are here to defend this building and international law. And we will continue to do that.”
Code Pink, founded in 2002 by women opposed to the Iraq War, has long been known for theatrical and provocative protests that result in arrests of its members. The group has been vocal in its opposition to U.S. military intervention in countries including Afghanistan and Syria, and it recently made headlines for its protest outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington after the murder in October of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
When the activists moved into the Venezuelan Embassy on April 10, a handful of Maduro government officials still were working in the building. They handed over key cards that allowed the activists to enter at will.
But last week, those officials were forced to leave their posts when their U.S. visas expired, leaving the embassy occupied solely by members of Code Pink and the left-wing groups the Answer Coalition and Popular Resistance. None who remain in the building are Venezuelan citizens, organizers of the occupation said.
Outside, Cova, the pro-Guiadó activist, said: “Our main position is we don’t want more people inside this embassy — the embassy that belongs to us, the Venezuelan people.”
Code Pink padlocked the front entrance and secured other doors with chains. For the first two weeks, the occupiers hosted evening events, including lectures and movie screenings.
At night, activists sleep on couches and rugs throughout the building. They share the bathrooms — several of which have showers — and the kitchens, alternating who cooks meals with food donated by supporters.
Activists said they try to be respectful of the space — no one sleeps in the ambassador’s office, for example — and clean up after themselves. A chart of chores on a whiteboard designates responsibilities for the day.
But things have been difficult to plan this week.
The group spent Tuesday on the embassy steps singing songs including “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” in the face of a growing group of Venezuelan opposition supporters.
Pritsker said that protesters dragged him down the steps that night, ripping his shirt sleeve and scratching his arms. A young Venezuelan man later entered the embassy and locked himself in a room for hours before agreeing to leave with an escort of officers from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.
On Wednesday, Code Pink members leaned out of the embassy’s second-story windows, chanting “Hands off Venezuela” through a loudspeaker as Vecchio, Guaidó’s ambassador, addressed members of the Venezuelan community from the embassy steps.
“For the sake of democracy and international law, we will remain in this building,” Gold said Wednesday. “We call on the Trump administration to end this coup attempt. It harms so many people, even Venezuelan people here in the U.S. Even the people outside protesting. It harms them, too.”