All was quiet on the front lines in Georgetown — specifically, in front of the Embassy of Venezuela on 30th Street, next to the C&O Canal — as of press time on Monday, May 6. It appeared to be increasingly a standoff between backers of Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó, approved by the country’s national assembly in January, and left-wing activists who support President Nicolás Maduro, whose election last year was deemed to be invalid due to fraud.
Now, after almost two weeks of often boisterous protests at the embassy by opposing sides with bullhorns and loud music, and the arrest on Thursday, May 2, of three leaders from the organization that calls itself the Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective for throwing food projectiles, the peace lines seemed to have been drawn.
Some 20 uniformed and plainclothes officers of the U.S. Secret Service — some with visible sidearms, some with not-so-visible back holsters — stood quietly chatting in front of walkways well-marked with yellow tape and lines of police vehicles, keeping an eye on the traffic flow and on the safety of pedestrians.
Several officers who asked to be anonymous told The Georgetowner that things were pretty quiet for the time being.
“While we’re getting some complaints from neighbors and businesses nearby about the noise, there’s nothing we can do. Noisy protests are legal between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. and folks have been very cooperative about shutting it off before and after those times,” said one.
Along the front of the embassy, Venezuelans — mostly, it seemed on this Monday morning, middle-aged women who had resided in the United States for some time — had set up chairs and tables of supplies. They were variously making and carrying signs, such as “Hands Off My Embassy” and “You Go Live With Maduro,” as they chatted eagerly with passersby.
Several told The Georgetowner that they didn’t understand the CODEPINK women who are occupying the embassy and supporting Maduro. One said: “Don’t they understand how precious democracy is and how Maduro has not allowed people to speak out or even back an opponent in Venezuela? We used to be a democratic state, but not anymore with Maduro.”
Across the street and inside the building itself, some 50 or so protesters had taken up positions with their own signs, tents and supporters. On Monday, they were almost invisible.
“We are protecting the embassy for the Venezuelan people against an invasion by the United States State Department and the Secret Service,” Kevin Zeese, a spokesperson for the Protection Collective, told The Georgetowner on Wednesday. Later, he admitted that there were few Venezuelans among their ranks. “We’re speaking for the poor who don’t have a voice,” he told the Washington Post on May 1.
Both sides seem to be awaiting a move by the Venezuelan government and the U.S. State Department to decide which president’s ambassador would be credentialed and move in.
“The country doesn’t decide who we recognize and credential as diplomats,” a Secret Service officer commented. “We [the U.S. government] decide whom we recognize. And D.C. tenancy laws don’t cover embassies. But we won’t go in to remove unlawful tenants or anyone else unless there is violence or vandalism that endangers public safety.”
Despite some rhetoric to the contrary, the Venezuelans outside on the sidewalk said they didn’t believe there had been any vandalism of Venezuelan property.
“If furniture starts to be thrown out the window, we’ll move in — to protect pedestrians,” a Secret Service officer said.