Law enforcement officials raided the building Thursday and arrested four demonstrators, paving the way for the diplomatic compound to be handed to the U.S. envoy of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by the United States.
Demonstrators had been occupying the building in an upscale Georgetown neighborhood since mid-April, saying they consider Nicolas Maduro the legitimate president of Venezuela.
At the start of the protest, more than 30 activists were living inside the embassy, but their numbers gradually dwindled after police threatened to remove them.
Maduro criticized the U.S. police action, calling it shameful. The embassy building had been vacant for more than a month after the Maduro administration pulled its diplomats from Washington. However, once the protesters began occupying the building, the Maduro government gave its support to the demonstrators and said they were “protecting” the building.
Guaido’s representative in Washington, Carlos Vecchio, told a group of his supporters outside the building late Thursday the embassy would be open for business soon. He thanked President Donald Trump’s administration for recovering the building.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the government of Guaido, whom the United States recognizes as the leader of Venezuela, asked for U.S. help in removing the demonstrators from the embassy.
A lawyer for the activists who were arrested said in a statement they were charged with interference with protective functions.
Guaido, Venezuela’s National Assembly leader, declared himself the country’s interim president in January, saying Maduro’s election in December was a fraud.
In addition to the U.S., Guaido is recognized by about 50 other countries as the legitimate leader of the South American nation, but he has not been able to nudge Venezuela’s socialist president from office.
Millions of Venezuelans — exhausted by out-of-control inflation, severe food and fuel shortages, a lack of medical care, and periodic blackouts — have fled the country.
Maduro has accused Guaido of trying to carry out a U.S.- and Colombian-supported coup and says the opposition will fail.