Liberal activists occupy Venezuelan embassy in Washington to oppose Trump

(USATODAY) – Liberal activists are bracing for a showdown with the Trump administration Thursday at an unusual location: Venezuela’s embassy, a stately four-story building in one of Washington’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

That building was vacated earlier this year after President Donald Trump denounced Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro as illegitimate and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s true leader. Maduro quickly blasted the move and recalled most of his diplomatic staff from the U.S., leaving Venezuela’s embassy nearly empty.

Now, however, the diplomatic building is filled with left-wing protesters vehemently opposed to the Trump administration’s policy. They say the Trump administration is trying to orchestrate a coup in the oil-rich South American nation.

“This is part of the U.S. regime change playbook,” said Margaret Flowers, co-director of PopularResistance.org, a peace and justice group.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others Trump administration officials have labeled Maduro a ruthless dictator. Under Maduro’s rule, Venezuela has suffered from a severe economic crisis, with rampant inflation and shortages of food and medicine. Opposition leaders in Venezuela said his re-election last May was rife with irregularities; some opposition candidates were barred from even running.

More: US announces withdrawal of last of its embassy personnel from Venezuela

The U.S. is now working with a large coalition of other countries opposed to Maduro’s continued grip on power, coordinating their support for Gauido’s bid to replace him.

The goal is “to restore human rights and democracy in Venezuela,” Pompeo said during an April 15 speech in Texas. “I know that we will ultimately be successful and that Mr. Maduro will leave that country.”