Protesters from around the country converged on D.C. Saturday to raise their voices against U.S. intervention in Venezuela.
A crowd of a few thousand people gathered at Lafayette Park just across from the White House and, in between full-throated chants, listened to speakers who called on everyone who’s against the Trump administration’s efforts at regime change in Venezuela to form a vanguard of resistance and solidarity.
Brian Becker, executive director of the ANSWER Coalition and one of the organizers of the march and rally, said that opponents of U.S. interventionism and hegemony must be the conscience of the nation.
“Let’s put some sanctions on the rich and powerful, let’s challenge racism, imperialism and the narrative spoon-fed to the people,” he said. “We’re bringing a different message — the message of solidarity.”
For months, progressive groups and individuals, and those opposed to the U.S. threat to Venezuela, have been meeting, dialoguing, organizing and strategizing. All the while, they’ve been watching developments in Venezuela, trying to gauge and if and when the Trump administration will go ahead with its promised military intervention.
Venezuela has been gripped by political and economic turmoil, caused by plummeting oil prices, mismanagement by government officials, intense partisan wrangling between the government and opposition and pressures caused by crippling U.S. sanctions that speakers characterized as economic terrorism.
Since assuming office, President Donald Trump and members of his administration have spoken openly of “regime change” and imposed billions of dollars of new sanctions, revealing that their efforts center on controlling Venezuela’s oil and installing a government that will allow U.S. corporations to freely plunder the resources.
Activists against such intervention have been unrelenting in their opposition, especially since Feb. 23, when U.S.-backed politician Juan Guaidó declared himself acting president. Guaidó’s justification for the soft coup is his belief that President Nicolás Maduro’s re-election in May was illegitimate.
Guaidó is using Article 233 of Venezuela’s constitution which places temporary presidential power on the head of the National Assembly when the presidency is otherwise vacant. He also cites Article 350, which proclaims that Venezuelans “shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees or encroaches upon human rights.”
Since then, Maduro and Guaidó have been locked in a tense standoff.
In D.C. on Saturday, protesters carried bright yellow placards declaring their position, such as “Not Your Land, Not Your Oil, Hands off Venezuelan soil.” Buses of demonstrators came from New York, Georgia, Chicago, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and all points in between. The crowd was an eclectic mix of young and old, hippies, millennials, Venezuelans — supporters and opponents of U.S. intervention — indigenous people, Haitians, Palestinians and others.
“It’s obviously critically important to be here,” said moderator Eugene Puryear of the Justice First organization. “They want to create dirty war, foment unrest and pit Venezuelans against each other. We’ve seen this story before in Iraq, Libya, and other countries which have been a complete humanitarian disaster. People are trying to eat, trying to survive because of the intervention.
“No to regime change agenda. Not in our name!” Puryear said.
Shortly after the rally began, a small contingent of Maduro opponents gathered. Several shouted out anti-Maduro comments, while others stood toe to toe with those against intervention jawing at each other. All around Lafayette Park, pairs of people or others in tight circles of debated and discussed their truths, some gesturing to emphasize their points, their faces tightening as they spoke.
Maduro opponents edged closer to the larger crowd and soon those on each side of the issue stood inches from each other, trying to overpower the words from the other side, shouting and pointing as their agitation spiked.
Mounted police and SWAT team members stepped in quickly to restore order, encouraging the anti-Maduro crowd to move back.
Katherine Savatierre stood watching the rally in between engaging with those who held a differing view.
“I’m here because there’s no food, no medicine, no power,” she said while trying to hold back tears. “My mom, father and grandmother are in Venezuela. I’m here with my sister. It is because of Maduro. He administers water and power. There has been no maintenance of the system. So many babies are dying in hospitals. I send money and packages when I can. My mom came recently and she bought everything, as much as she could. I don’t want a war or people to die but if invasion is the only option …”
Gabriela Febres alternated between arguing with a young African-American man from Baltimore and talking into a mic held by a well-dressed journalist.
“I would love to tell my story,” she told a reporter from The Final Call. “When I go to Venezuela, I’m afraid. My grandmother suffers from pain in her knees but there’s no medicine. I have to travel to another country to get her medication. Is that fair? I want to talk to people over there. My father is a college professor who studied at Cornell. His salary is $20 a month.
“All of us have families who are struggling,” Febres said. “My family hasn’t had water for a month. It’s not about the government or Trump. It’s been 20 years. Chavez was the problem and Maduro is now.”
Fellow Venezuelan Eleazar Basero stood holding up two Venezuelan flags alongside his friend Yhamir Chabur. Basero said he was last in his country in 2016 but still has family there and follows news from the country closely.
“You have a population, a group of people with purchasing power,” he said. “There’s a scarcity of goods but they have capital. Food is being hoarded by people like Luis Mendoza, who is the largest distributor of food and alcohol in the country. The government tried to implement price controls on food but there have been 87 different sanctions since 1998.
“I think the U.S. will invade,” Basero said. “Absolutely. If you look at recent history, there are a lot of parallels. They are using false pretenses because Trump needs his wars. The U.S. is a death economy. It needs wars to keep the economy rolling.”
Basero said it needs to be made clear that the real beneficiaries of a U.S. invasion would be the billionaire Koch brothers, who have a substantial stake in Venezuela’s oil industry in Venezuela and seek more control.
“[Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo, [Vice President Mike] Pence and others owe their careers to the Koch brothers,” he said. “They have to give something back. … Being a part of this is very important because we’re standing on the right side of history. People here want peace and a new type of government.”