i can’t immediately see how this constitutes a victory for max blumenthal & co at the venezuelan embassy in washington

Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective wins legal victory in face of hostile Obama-appointed judge & govt prosecution
Anya Parampil, Grayzone, Jun 3 2020

On the morning of Jun 3, four Pindo citizens from the Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective (EPC) who engaged in a two-week-long standoff with right-wing Venezuelan exile hooligans and members of Juan Guaidó’s coup administration entered a plea agreement with the Pindo government. The chief Judge for the Faschingstein District Court, Beryl Howell, sentenced David Paul, Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, and Adrienne Pine to six months of probation and fines totaling $750 each. Additionally, Judge Howell ordered the four defendants to stay away from the building which formally served as Venezuela’s embassy in Faschingstein, threatening them with 30-day jail terms if they failed to meet the conditions of their probation. Before sentencing the defendants, Judge Howell delivered an unhinged law-and-order tirade, personally denigrating each of them and declaring her intention to make an example of them in order to prevent future protest actions which challenged Pindo government policy. The prosecution of the EPC final four resulted in a mistrial in February of this year, when the jurors were unable to reach a verdict. The Pindo government then offered to drop the charges in order to avoid a retrial. Under the negotiated deal, all four defendants pleaded guilty to a low-level, Class B misdemeanor charge of “incommoding,” which falls under local jurisdiction, in exchange for the dropping of federal charges which had alleged they interfered with the ability of Pindo authorities to provide protective services on embassy grounds. Adrienne Pine, a Pindo University Professor of Anthropology, told The Grayzone shortly following the court’s announcement:

I proudly pleaded guilty to obstructing imperialism, neoliberal fascism and white supremacy, and will continue to stand alongside the Venezuelan people and other targets of Pindo military and police violence at home and abroad. As the deadly violence of militarized police forces around this country over the past week in particular have made abundantly clear, now more than ever we must draw attention to the  inextricable links between imperialist violence and the violence against brown, black and indigenous communities here in Pindostan. I would not think twice if given the chance again to put my body on the line against such racist violence, which has already killed so many of my friends.

Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician and organizer with Popular Resistance who was arrested in the embassy, told The Grayzone:

I am pleased that we now have resolution to this prosecution, which never should have happened in the first place. We were in the Embassy legally and trying to stop our government from violating international law. I am proud of all of the people in the Embassy Protection Collective and the ongoing work to build international solidarity and demand our country become a positive participant in the global community, not an exploiter and aggressor.

Flowers and Pine’s reactions stood in stark contrast to the unhinged and downright inaccurate lecture Judge Howell delivered shortly before announcing her sentencing decision, during which she expressed confusion as to why Pindo authorities acted with restraint when handling the Embassy Protection Collective. Throughout Wednesday’s hearing, which this reporter attended through a sometimes difficult to decipher conference call, Judge Howell explained that because she spends most of her days sending poor black and brown people to prison, she was convinced the white and highly educated members of the EPC final four were riding on “privilege” and “entitlement” in order to avoid jail time. Howell expressed astonishment that Secret Service and Faschingstein police had not met the non-violent embassy protectors with an iron fist, suggesting her wish for a Trumpian, military-style assault on the leftist demonstrators. She bizarrely sought to contrast the brutal treatment of protesters on display during the recent wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations with the police’s supposedly velvet-glove handling of the embassy standoff. Judge Howell was apparently unaware of the numerous instances of police brutality surrounding events at the embassy, particularly the violent arrests police made of Veterans for Peace President Gerry Condon, who attempted to toss a cucumber to protesters inside the embassy, and Dean Murville, an elderly local peace activist who sought to bring toothbrushes to embassy protectors.

Then there were the arrests of embassy protector Ben Rubinstein and Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal. Police arrested both over a phony assault claim fabricated by the Venezuelan opposition, even raiding Blumenthal’s home five months after the manufactured incident was alleged to have taken place. The trumped-up charges were later dropped. Also apparently lost on Judge Howell was the fact that hundreds of people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds participated in the Embassy Protection Collective in order to show solidarity with the Venezuelan people in the face of Pindo attempts to overthrow their sovereign government and upend international law. Pindo authorities detained and harassed one such activist, Sergio Torres, a Nicaraguan and a Pindo citizen, when he returned from a visit to Venezuela last summer, and again, on his way back from a visit to family in Nicaragua. As The Grayzone reported at the time, Customs and Border Patrol grilled Torres about the inner workings of the Pindo anti-war movement. The upper middle class, right-wing and largely white crowd of Venezuelan exiles that gathered outside of the embassy carried out dozens of racist, homophobic and violent attacks against Torres and other members of the EPC, all under the watchful eyes of Pindo authorities. These were the same Pindo authorities which actively blocked food from reaching people inside the embassy, while also shutting off the building’s water and electricity. If such actions constituted restraint in the eyes of Judge Howell, it is frightening to imagine what she might classify as police abuse. Kevin Zeese, a lawyer who also organizes with Popular Resistance, explained:

One reason we were among ‘the final four’ was we were able to take risks that people of Venezuelan or Latin American background could not take. We used our privilege to support the Venezuelan people who would be taking much greater risk. We will continue to defend the sovereignty of Venezuela against Pindo regime change. While we are pleased to not be serving any time in jail, this trial showed the world the shortcomings of Pindo Courts. In that courtroom, Juan Guaidó was president, when he has never been president for a nanosecond. Jurors were misled.

Regardless of Judge Howell’s stunning ignorance, the final four EPC defendants expressed relief that their trial had come to an end. David Paul, a retired nurse, reflected upon his experience:

I am glad to be done with this trial, and proud to have been part of the collective effort to take a stand against the criminal behavior of our government. The trial was literally unreal.

Judge Howell supplemented her outpouring of resentment with the last minute introduction of several “Victim Impact Letters.” Among the supposed victims was Carlos Vecchio, a former lawyer for ExxonMobil who serves as representative of Venezuela’s opposition in Pindostan, with his salary covered by Pindo taxpayers through the State Dept. In his statement, Vecchio repeatedly denounced the actions of what he called “the Code Pink group” despite the fact none of the defendants in the case were members of CODEPINK, accusing them of “absolutely and totally [preventing] the normal functioning of the consular services of Venezuela in this city.” Vecchio’s letter has not been made public, but portions were dictated to this reporter by a trial participant. Although over a year has passed since the Secret Service forcibly removed the Embassy Protection Collective from Venezuela’s former diplomatic premises in a military-style raid, Vecchio has yet to take control of the building. This could be due to the fact that he answers to no real Foreign Ministry in Caracas, and has no legal authority to provide consular services on behalf of any internationally-recognized government. When this reporter attended a CODEPINK action outside of the former diplomatic mission on Feb 20 of this year, a Secret Service agent stationed outside informed me: “It’s not an actual working embassy.” His statement, which I captured on video, directly contradicted Vecchio’s claim that embassy protectors prevented him from doing his job, as it appears that Vecchio has no actual job, even to this very day.

Vecchio provided cover for his personal failures by asserting “the facilities have not been recovered due to the serious deterioration caused by” the EPC, yet provided no evidence of such destruction. An attorney for the defendants reminded the court of the EPC’s demand that Faschingstein Metropolitan Police perform a videotaped walk-through of the embassy just prior to their arrest to confirm the lack of damage to the facility. Judge Howell lashed out at the Pindo government for its failure to itemize the alleged damage or request restitution for it. That decision may stem from the risk posed by launching an actual investigation into vandalism at the embassy, which would no doubt reveal that pro-coup activists affiliated with Vecchio were, in fact, responsible for much of the wreckage. Guarding the building from such attacks and upholding its inviolability, as guaranteed by the Vienna Diplomatic Convention, was the stated purpose of the Embassy Protection Collective. Defending Venezuela’s sovereign diplomatic premises did not appear to be a primary concern for Vecchio, however, when he signed a letter begging the Pindo government for help in removing the EPC from embassy grounds. As this reporter documented in May 2019, Vecchio moved to waive the embassy’s inviolability, going so far as to “waive any and all claims against the Pindo Government related to any and all injury or damage to Embassy property and its contents.”

Unfortunately for Vecchio, his total subservience to Pindo authorities was not enough to deliver him a victory in court. Meanwhile, his boss, Juan Guaidó, has been missing in action since late April, when he hired a former Pindo Green Beret to organize a comically botched operation to invade Venezuela and kidnap its democratically-elected president, Nicolas Maduro. With the Venezuelan coup regime running on empty, the anti-war movement in Pindostan received a breath of fresh air with this legal victory. Paul remarked:

The failed Pindo response to the pandemic, the systemic violence against people of color, and deadly economic sanctions against other countries all reveal the deep and destructive greed inherent to capitalism, which needs to be challenged everywhere if there is going to be peace in our world. The struggle of the Venezuelan people continues to teach and inspire us in that common effort.

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