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The Real News Network interviewed Anya Parampil, a journalist with The Grayzone, live from the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C. where activists with the Embassy Protection Collective are preventing the Venezuelan opposition from taking over the embassy.

Story Transcript

ANYA PARAMPIL Your viewers won’t be shocked to hear this, Tucker, but the news media, the fake news media, are lying about the situation in Venezuela. Let me put it for you this way. Imagine if Hillary Clinton had refused to admit defeat after losing to President Trump in 2016, and banded together a group of twenty-four US soldiers, and attempted to take the White House by force. I don’t think she’d be walking freely on the streets the way Juan Guaido is walking right now in Caracas and I certainly think the news media would be calling it, rightfully, a coup.

SHARMINI PERIES And that was Grayzone’s journalist Anya Parampil on Fox News with Tucker Carlson. Anya Parampil, along with several others of the Embassy Protection Collective, are inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC since April 10th to protect the embassy from being taken over by the Venezuelan opposition. That is, Juan Guaido and group. Now, the Venezuelan opposition, along with the United States, are trying to install the Juan Guaido representatives at the embassy, but Anya and the collective are trying to prevent them from doing so. The collective includes Code Pink, Popular Resistance, and Answer Coalition, I believe, and there may be others, but Anya will tell us more about that. Good to have you, Anya.

ANYA PARAMPIL Thank you so much for inviting me, Sharmini. It’s great to be with you.

SHARMINI PERIES All right, Anya. The obvious question is, what are you doing there inside the embassy and what are you hoping to achieve?

ANYA PARAMPIL I’ve been coming in and out of the embassy since this began on April 10th. I’ve been outside as well as on the inside, covering the demonstrations by the opposition, which kind of picked up last week after that attempted military takeover. I [inaudible] don’t really call it that considering there were only 70 soldiers, many of them which were lied to in Venezuela to try and take over Miraflores Palace. But since that date last Wednesday, I guess a week ago now, I’ve been stuck inside the embassy because opposition thugs essentially have set up tents and blocked all of the entrances to the Maduro government’s embassy here, hoping to prevent more people from coming inside, but most importantly, they are trying to block food and other necessary supplies from coming inside of this building so that the collective can continue to fuel itself.

It’s ironic I say because the opposition, which are acting on behalf of Carlos Vecchio, Juan Guaido’s shadow puppet ambassador here in Washington DC, which we assume is acting on behalf of the State Department, is employing the same tactic it uses against the Venezuelan people— a blockade and siege against US citizens now inside of this embassy, hoping that it will hurt their resolve and encourage them to leave the building so that Vecchio and his cronies can sit inside. I’m actually speaking to you from the ambassador’s office. This is the chair that Carlos Vecchio would like to occupy illegally but so far, he’s been unable to because the collective inside is not giving up. They’re very strong and they’re actually having a really good time.

There’s a great, diverse group of people. You mentioned the three organizations which have been leading this charge—Code Pink, we have Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold outside. Inside we have Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers from Popular Resistance. Outside we also have the Answer Coalition— Brian Becker and other members— as well as members from the Answer Coalition on the inside. And then, just people from around the country, honestly, who have come to hold this embassy. What they say, is they’re here to protect international law, ensure the United States abides by the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic relations, and protects this property which is owned by the Venezuelan government, the Maduro government, because according to Article 2 of the Vienna Convention, this property, this building, is inviolable. US officers and officials cannot enter it without authorization from the owner. And the people inside here are staying at the invitation of the Maduro government, so they have the legal cover to continue to sit here, to sleep here, to stay inside. And so, the strategy from the opposition has been a war of attrition. As I mentioned, trying to prevent supplies from getting inside hoping, again, that it will cause people to give up. And I can tell you from speaking to the individuals leading the collective, I don’t think that it’s likely to see that happen anytime soon.

SHARMINI PERIES All right, Anya. In addition to protecting the embassy from being taken over by the Juan Guaido group, the opposition in Venezuela—that is, the government that the United States is now officially recognizing, along with a whole bunch of other countries in the Lima Group. What was interesting was, Medea Benjamin’s op-ed in The Washington Post this morning that the other objective here is to stop a reckless war like the one that took place in Iraq, but this time in Venezuela. And to draw attention, the world’s attention, to the embassy so that people understand the depth at which Juan Guaido, supported by the United States and the State Department, would go to in order to control and take possession of the world’s largest oil reserves as well as, not to mention, various other natural resources, like gold and other extractive industry resources that Venezuela has. So tell us more about that because that’s so important. In terms of Iraq, it was oil. In terms of Venezuela, it’s also oil. Tell us that story.

ANYA PARAMPIL Medea is absolutely correct when she says that a goal of this collective is to prevent a war on Venezuela. And I think it’s important to understand that since the Iraq War, we’ve seen a gradual decline in the US’s ability to wage war for oil in the conventional way. We had a military invasion of Iraq, UN-sanctioned bombing campaign in Libya, a dirty war in Syria, which failed due to the Syrian military and intervention on behalf of Russia, which prevented the United States from achieving its objectives in Syria. And so now, we’re left with Venezuela where I don’t think we’ll see a conventional military invasion. We have to understand that with Bolton, Elliott Abrams in the White House, and Trump, of course, anything is possible in terms of bombing or a dirty war, but so far that hasn’t happened. And so, what the United States is left with instead, is an economic war, which we know they’ve been waging since 2015, since even before Trump took office, and a diplomatic war. They are trying to delegitimize the Maduro government through attacks on its diplomatic staff.

And so, we saw not only the recognition of Juan Guaido’s ambassador to an organization like the Organization for American States, an institution like the Organization for American States, several weeks ago, we saw the acceptance of his representative at the Inter-American Development Bank, as well. But these are institutions which are largely controlled by the United States and it’s not having a successful impact— this US regime change policy— at organizations like the United Nations. I interviewed Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, about two weeks ago for The Grayzone and spoke to him about this battle he’s fighting every day at the UN to lobby countries to stand up and say, if this happens to Venezuela, if they’re able to, for example, kick Venezuela out of the United Nations, then it can happen to anyone because this is the first time we’ve seen the United States actually declare a coup successful, declare the President changed before the war was actually won. And so, they’re trying to win all these fronts.

They seized, against international law, Venezuelan diplomatic missions already in Washington DC and New York. But this mission, this embassy where I’m sitting in right now, is the central soul of Venezuela’s diplomatic presence in the United States. And so, it’s really the front line in this diplomatic war. I should add, about a week and a half ago, while I was in New York actually interviewing Moncada, the United States also announced sanctions targeting Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza. I also interviewed him at that time and got his response. This is really an unprecedented situation where we’re seeing the United States sanction a top diplomat from a country. What he told me is that it’s outrageous for the US to do this because even in times of war, diplomacy and relations with individuals like Arreaza are supposed to be open. That’s supposed to be the key to peace and reaching agreements that can end the war, but it doesn’t seem like the United States is interested in that. They’re only interested in escalating, so what we’re witnessing right now in this embassy is truly historic because we have US citizens willing to put their body on the line to go up against the empire and its interests.

One former colleague of mine, Mark Sloboda, described this as perhaps the most significant direct action in the history of US regime change wars, or recent history of US regime change wars. This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, a true diplomatic assault on the Venezuelan government and US citizens now stepping up and saying we’re not going to stand for this anymore. In fact, we’re willing to put our bodies physically on the line. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cover this moment as a reporter, which is why— even though I was not expecting to be here this long, I only brought a change of clothes for about a day. I’ve been here for a week now because if I leave, I won’t be let back in and I just can’t give up the opportunity to witness this moment and make sure it’s documented.

SHARMINI PERIES Anya, if you take Trump’s team, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Vice President Pence, and others, what they’re essentially doing is manufacturing consent for an invasion in Venezuela and they’re doing this by way of using multiple sources, if I may. So if you take the Lima Group, a group of countries in the hemisphere that endorsed recognizing Juan Guaido as the president of Venezuela when there is an elected president, President Maduro. And secondly, they’re also orchestrating trying to get the European Union and the United Nations and so on to also endorse their effort. The whole convoy of aid, that crisis that was manufactured on the border, was another effort and this recent thing in Venezuela last week where they tried to orchestrate a coup, all of this has failed. It has fallen flat on their face.

And you have been very articulate out there talking about how these efforts have failed. And yet, it is the long-term sustained efforts of this sort that will eventually manufacture consent to go in and invade Venezuela because we can add the mainstream television coverage to all of this and we have a situation that is going to be more than a crisis and where we will have the broader public here in the United States who already have bought into this. Now the only resistance to all of this, is coming from, say, Russia, China. Now they also have investments in Venezuela, so they also have a vested interest in trying to support the Maduro government. Now I’m saying all of this because I want to talk about what is the real solution to diffusing the situation and having a more diplomatic approach like the one you were talking about? I know you were recently in Geneva at the United Nations Human Rights Council also talking about all of this.

ANYA PARAMPIL I think what we’re witnessing right now is exactly how the manufactured consent will be defeated and will not stand. Sharmini, I have to say, reporting on this standoff, this movement within Venezuela’s embassy to protect international law and preserve diplomatic norms. While I have received plenty of attacks from the right-wing opposition— physically outside of the building and online, very ugly attacks wishing death on me, making threats. I’m not the only reporter who’s experienced this. The overwhelming majority of the comments I receive are incredibly positive. And you mentioned the mainstream media, and I should have said earlier when speaking about the war that’s being waged on Venezuela— I mentioned the diplomatic war, I mentioned the economic war, there is also a media war.

You’re correct to say that there’s been a virtual blackout in perspectives which are critical of US policy towards Venezuela in the corporate media, but you also played that clip of myself on Fox News, which I felt so honored and privileged to be able to do. And based on my response to that segment, on the most watched television show in the country— I mean, Tucker Carlson. Trump himself may have been watching it, but we know that millions of Americans watch that show every night. Millions of Americans who you and I may not agree with politically on many issues, but I got so many positive comments from people all over the country and from different political stripes for that interview. I think it’s because the US public is sick of this. They don’t believe this anymore. They don’t buy into these narratives and that’s exactly why President Trump was elected.

That’s why I tried to emphasize in my interview with Tucker that President Trump ran on a campaign promising to end these regime change wars and wars for oil. He correctly called out the mainstream media for being fake news and now, he’s kind of flipped the script. The mainstream media is cheering him on as he wages war on Venezuela and he’s pursuing a disastrous policy with regard to Caracas, but the US people see through that, I think. That’s why I wanted to bring up that point on Fox News and that’s why I received so much positive feedback. I think, because of also what’s happening in this embassy where people are putting their bodies on the line, and even The Washington Post can’t ignore the story, this group, the people that they represent in here, is winning. The media, alternative media which you and I work for, is winning. This is what people want.

That’s why they turned to Trump. And now that they’re seeing Trump as a fraud, which many of us while he was running for president would have guessed this is how he would turn out, and now that the wider public is seeing this, I believe it’s going to only draw more people to alternative media, more people to political movements which truly stand for ending these wars, and putting America first in the sense that we’re not worried about destroying other countries and maybe not spending so much of our resources on our military, but are instead taking that money and investing it into the people here. I think, whether they’re Trump voters or Bernie Sanders supporters, that’s what most US citizens want.

SHARMINI PERIES Anya, let me switch a little bit here to Venezuela. Both you and I were recently there. You were there for a good month observing what was going on there. The impact of the economic sanctions that the United States has imposed on Venezuela and now other countries who have also joined that campaign is having a tremendous effect on the lives of people. People are suffering without medicine, without food. There are attempts to provide aid and some people are obviously getting aid provided by the government, and others like Red Cross and so on. But the main point here is that the sanctions are crippling the Venezuelan government from being able to provide its citizens a healthy life at the moment while this crisis is going on. Tell us about the observations you made while you were there and also, the kind of people-to-people alliance that has come about from your trip there because I feel that organizations that are involved in this collective to protect the embassy, are also very well-networked with people’s movements on the ground.

ANYA PARAMPIL Absolutely. For example, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers were recently on a peace delegation to Venezuela as well, who witnessed similar things that you and I saw, which is that while I wouldn’t categorize or describe, I should say, what’s happening in Venezuela is a humanitarian crisis considering I’ve worked in the Gaza Strip where I did see really firsthand. I saw humanitarian assistance [inaudible] aided and abetted by the United States’ support for the Israeli apartheid government, which keeps Gaza under siege very similarly to the way the United States keeps Venezuela under siege. It is impossible to deny that US sanctions have caused an economic crisis in Venezuela and led to massive amounts of suffering, but that is the intended result of these sanctions. For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview, I believe, with CNBC with regard to Iran, that US sanctions policy was designed to cause the Iranian public to rise up and change their government. Why should we doubt that that is not the same objective that US sanctions policy has in Venezuela?

At the same time, we recently saw the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank based here in Washington DC, release a report documenting 40,000 deaths in two years to come as a result of US sanctions. I recently published at The Grayzone, an exclusive report. It was a State Department fact sheet the State Department actually published on its website and then immediately deleted because they realized it was embarrassing and probably not a good idea to be making these statements publicly. But in that report, the US actually boasted that due to US sanctions, Venezuela has lost a certain amount of its ability to produce and sell its oil on the international market. It boasted that US policy, diplomatic pressure, essentially bullying, has hurt Venezuela’s ability to sell its gold. At the top of the list of key outcomes on that Venezuela fact sheet, the State Department listed Juan Guaido’s self-declared presidency, which suggests that opposition claims of Juan Guaido’s independence from Washington are completely malarkey because they said openly that the fact he declared himself president in January was a key outcome of US pressure.

I interviewed Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research for that article and he said, I don’t think the United States should be bragging about hurting Venezuela’s ability to produce and sell oil because that policy and those outcomes which they’re bragging about, are exactly what’s leading to the deaths of thousands of people. The United States is essentially bragging about its ability to kill Venezuelans and it will only lead to more suffering if these measures stay in place. I think it was quite significant the State Department recognized it was a mistake to publish that fact sheet because we know according to international law, Article 33 of the Geneva Convention, collective punishment is illegal and that is exactly what the United States was boasting about doing in publishing that fact sheet. They were proud of the fact that they are collectively punishing the Venezuelan people with the objective of changing the government.

SHARMINI PERIES All right. Anya, I know that from a list serve that we are on here at The Real News, there is some communication taking place with the State Department and Secret Service. Many, many people are writing in asking, what is it you need? Is there food available to you? Can—someone just wrote in, saying—Can we not deliver some food using a—


SHARMINI PERIES [laughs] Exactly, drones. You know, isn’t there other innovative techniques to deliver food to you? How are you sustaining yourself and what can people do? And what’s the State Department saying about your stay there?

ANYA PARAMPIL The State Department and the Secret Service have coordinated so that the police have prevented food deliveries from taking place. There is actually video of Secret Service throwing food that somebody tried to deliver to us in the trash, although they lied on the phone and said that they are not preventing the delivery of aid. So I urge everyone who is watching this interview who cares about the people inside, to call the Secret Service at (202)-406-8800, and ask them to obey international law and allow for the passage of food into this embassy because according, again, to the Vienna Diplomatic Convention, it is the responsibility of the United States to protect the integrity of this building and allow for the owner of the building to maintain its control, which means the people who are in here at the invitation of the legitimate government of Venezuela, the Maduro government, are the ones they need to protect and the Secret Service has done the opposite. They’ve allied with the right-wing, racist opposition, violent opposition, which has rallied outside.

In terms of food, I would say that I’m limited in what I can say but we’ve managed to secure supplies to last quite a while. We’re rationing, but what I want to say on that point is that this collective that I’ve witnessed, that I am covering here, it’s not only a very significant and historic demonstration of international solidarity with the Venezuelan people. To me, it’s also demonstrated a real, real potential within our own country, Sharmini, for a real future, a better future because the collective is extremely organized. It’s brought together some of the most veteran and experienced activists and organizers in our country, as I said, Popular Resistance, the Answer Coalition, Code Pink, and so it’s very disciplined in here. The collective is kind of split into groups. We have, obviously, the media. We have the cooking staff, which keeps track of the food supplies we have and make sure that it’s being distributed in a way where it can last for quite a while. People are cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning the halls, cleaning everything to make sure it stays extremely well-kept in this embassy because, of course, we want to preserve the integrity of this building and respect international law, unlike the people outside by the way.

I should mention, again, it’s the responsibility of the US Secret Service to make sure that no damage is inflicted on this property. And yet, we’ve witnessed multiple times Carlos Vecchio’s thugs rallied outside, drilling the door, actually trying to physically drill the door down. They’ve broken glass and lights. They’re actually damaging the building, the embassy they claim they want to be owners of. It’s so insane to me to witness this because it’s just demonstrated the fraudulence of the people outside and the people who are standing with Guaido and Vecchio and by extension the State Department and Trump, and the resolve and the discipline and the spirit, the real true revolutionary spirit of the people on the inside. They’ve created a collective that’s a true experiment in communal living that’s very successful. It’s a model that I think, you know, we’re—we have one anthropologist on the inside and I think she’ll have to do some study on this because it’s just really been inspiring, Sharmini, and that’s what gives me the confidence that this collective will outlast whatever it is that’s outside. They’re dwindling every day.

Every day that the collective members stay inside this building, is seen as a victory. While every day they are stuck out in their tents on the street, it’s a huge defeat for the opposition, for Carlos Vecchio. That’s why he has to show up every night and kind of give a morale boost to his troops. It was interesting, Sharmini. Last night, Carlos Vecchio was actually given an award by the International Republican Institute, which is a cutout of the National Endowment for Democracy, which is an extension of the State Department. And the former founder or head of the National Endowment for Democracy has actually said on the record that the work they do, is the kind of work that was done by the CIA in decades before. So they give Carlos Vecchio this award, essentially a State Department-sponsored award. What does he do? Within hours, he shows up out front of the Maduro government’s embassy to give that award to the supporters outside in order to make them feel confident because they’re dwindling out there. All they have on their side is hate and anger and they don’t even have a plan, Sharmini. If Carlos Vecchio were to take control of this building, if he were to sit in this chair that I’m sitting in right now, he wouldn’t even be able to issue visas. He doesn’t have a foreign minister. I’ve been trying to ask him— I shot out the window whenever I see him there. I say, Carlos Vecchio, who’s your foreign minister or are you just answering to Trump and Pompeo?

SHARMINI PERIES [laughs] That’s a very good question. Anya, one of our viewers is writing in and I think this is a very good question and to the point you were making earlier about collective punishment by way of sanctions that they have inflicted on the Venezuelan people. And in reference to Mark Weisbrot’s paper, about 40,000-some people that have died as a result of the sanctions alone. We want to know do you know of any efforts where some mechanism has been kicked in to prosecute US officials of war crimes for violating these human rights?

ANYA PARAMPIL I’m not sure of any official legal initiatives that have been taken up against the US government, but what I can say is that the Venezuelan people have launched a campaign to draw attention to the devastating impact of US sanctions. Foreign Minister Arreaza made that announcement at the United Nations about a week and a half ago, the day before the United States moved to sanction him personally. I’m sure that was not a coincidence. And a recent UN rapporteur who visited Venezuela after Alfred de Zayas, who we know visited in 2017 and documented that US sanctions were killing ordinary Venezuelans. A second rapporteur, Jazairy, has just returned from Venezuela and he also issued a report saying that these sanctions are having a truly dangerous and deadly impact on the people there.

So the UN Human Rights Commission, I think, is a very likely venue for some official condemnation of the United States to come. The UN has to, as I said while I was in Geneva, condemn these sanctions as collective punishment. Only then can we really hope that US officials will be held accountable. Based on the past, you know just as well as I do, and so do your viewers, that it’s never really the case that US officials are held to account for their crimes. But I think what we’re seeing through this process with Venezuela is that the world isn’t the same as it used to be. Other countries such as Russia and China have more of a presence on the international stage now. That’s what’s given Venezuela some protection at organizations like the United Nations. And I think with time, that means these institutions will be able to fulfill their true potential and begin holding US officials accountable. I think that’s something we will possibly see in the future.

SHARMINI PERIES All right, Anya. Let’s leave it there for now and we’ll certainly be back to interview you and others who are there inside the embassy. It’s wonderful that we have this outlet that we can do this over Zoom or Skype.

ANYA PARAMPIL Yeah. We’re very, very grateful for The Real News Network and all of the work that you do. You’re filling such an important void and you have my solidarity as a fellow member of the alternative media.

SHARMINI PERIES Anya Parampil, who’s a journalist with Grayzone. I thank you so much for joining us today. And we’ll be back with you and your colleagues at the embassy very soon. Thank you so much.

ANYA PARAMPIL Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Sharmini Peries was a co-founder of TRNN, where she harnessed the power and expertise of civil society institutions. Previously, Sharmini was Economic and Trade Adviser to President Hugo Chavez at Miraflores and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. Prior to that she served as the executive director of the following institutions: The Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She also managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario, Canada. She holds a M.A. in Economics from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her Ph.D. studies in Social and Political Thought at York University remain incomplete (ABD).