The Rev. Jesse Jackson is embraced by a demonstrators outside the Venezuelan Embassy
in Washington on May 15, 2019. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
The Rev. Jesse Jackson walked past a line of uniformed police officers Wednesday outside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington to deliver food and water to four activists living inside, part of a new effort to bring supplies to the protesters each day.
As he approached the building, Jackson, 77, carried bags with pink trim, a symbolic nod to the group he had come to support — Code Pink, a left-wing organization known for theatrical and provocative protests.
“They were trying to starve them out,” Jackson said after helping to deliver food that the embassy’s occupiers hoisted inside with a rope.
The embassy, a red-brick building in the Georgetown neighborhood, has for weeks been the site of a standoff between supporters of besieged Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and backers of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The Guaidó supporters outside want the Maduro backers inside to leave the building. The confrontation between activists has become a proxy struggle for control over the South American country’s diplomatic mission.
Protests inside and outside of the embassy have gone on nonstop for nearly three weeks, after leftist demonstrators from groups including Code Pink began living in the building April 10 at the invitation of Maduro government officials.
But for the past week, pro-Maduro activists have struggled to get food and supplies to their associates inside.
Since April 30, anti-Maduro protesters have patrolled the building’s entrances and exits, at times physically blocking attempts to enter or deliver supplies. Each side has accused the other of violence. Police have arrested at least 10 people, many of whom were charged in connection with “throwing missiles” — in many cases, a reference to food items launched past police barricades and the raised hands of Guaidó supporters.
Last week, protest organizers said Pepco shut off electricity to the building at the direction of Guaidó-appointed diplomats recognized by the U.S. government as the rightful emissaries of Venezuela. On Monday, officials posted a notice demanding that the occupiers vacate the embassy.
Jackson said he decided over the weekend to offer aid to the activists inside. He arrived to cheers of “Thank you, Jesse” from Code Pink supporters. The food drop Wednesday was only the beginning, he said.
“We’re mobilizing ministers and people around the country to start coming here every day,” Jackson said. “We’ll have people from the Rainbow Push Coalition here every day until there’s a break in the situation.”
Matthew Burwick, a pro-Guaidó Venezuelan who has demonstrated outside the embassy for weeks, said he followed Jackson to the front of the building, imploring him to “send food to Venezuela” rather than give it to the activists inside the embassy.
“Man, you are supporting a dictator,” Burwick said to Jackson.
Then, he grabbed one of the bags.
A brief struggle ensued between Burwick and members of Code Pink. Eventually, Burwick said, police told him to back off.
“Now they have more food, and that means more time enjoying our immunity, inside our embassy,” Burwick said later. “It’s miserable. I feel miserable.”
Pro-Guaidó demonstrators expressed frustration at the inaction of police officers, who previously had not allowed anyone from either side to approach the building.
On Tuesday, police issued a warning to the activists via megaphone, saying that those inside must leave “immediately” and that “any person who refuses . . . will be trespassing in violation of federal and District of Columbia laws.”
The demonstrators — two women and two men — have remained inside.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
“If they say nothing is going in, and no one is going in, then they need to apply that rule equally to everybody,” said Anly Renda, a pro-Guaidó demonstrator. “If I walk over there right now — to my embassy — I’ll get detained. That’s not right.”