President Maduro must face the music in Venezuela - article by Martin Rodil, VALC's President
Published in The Hill on June 16, 2017
During one of the many recent pro-democracy demonstrations in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro’s loyal National Guard approached a young musician named Willy Arteaga. The hooligans grabbed his violin and smashed it, then made a point of returning the irreparable instrument, Arteaga’s prized possession.
Arteaga’s friend, teenaged viola player Armando Cañizales, had already been killed in the protests, and the added loss of the violin was too much for him to handle.
One should never underestimate the emotional attachment between a musician and his or her instrument. And one should certainly never underestimate the power of music. A video of Willy crying his heart out over his broken violin immediately went viral, thousands of support messages and grassroots fundraising campaigns to buy him a new violin. These brave musicians remind me of those who continued to play on the Titanic, the music of resilience when surrounded by fear and despair.
A Titanic is once again sinking, but this time the ship is a monstrous dictatorial regime. We believe it is high time that Maduro faces the music and moves aside.
For two months now, the Venezuelan people, hungry and angry, have taken to the streets to protest. They are protesting the lack of food, the broken health system, medicine shortages, complete and utter insecurity and a failing economy. Out-of-control hyperinflation has already devoured what was left of people’s savings. Child malnutrition is now the shocking norm in Venezuela, a country awash with natural resources, which should be among the richest in the world.
The oppressive dictatorship has both mismanaged and pillaged the economy. In the meantime, Maduro and his gangs put down these peaceful protests with brutal force. The signs and chants of the peaceful protesters demanding basic rights and fair elections are met with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and even sniper fire. The government also deploys armed militias known as “colectivos” to intimidate and beat up protestors. They have been responsible for scores of deaths with total impunity.
Venezuela’s endemic corruption is further compounded by a complete crackdown on the free press. Journalists nationwide have been injured and their equipment destroyed for the “crime” of reporting and covering the protests. The state telecom regulator Conatel is warning TV stations against broadcasting demonstrations, threatening to fine them or remove their permits if they transmit footage of rallies with any signs saying “dictatorship” or “repression.”
While many domestic journalists are thrown in prison, foreign journalists are also under immense pressure, with Conatel forcing cable companies to either temporarily or permanently cut international news stations.
In the last couple of months, 67 people have been killed, with most of the victims under the age of 25. Juan Pernalete, a 20-year-old student, was killed when the National Guard fired a tear-gas canister from close range. More than 2,700 people have been arrested and more than 1,100 are still behind bars. They have no access to lawyers or a fair trial, and many are being tried in illegal military courts.
As the grave injustices pile up, the regime is starting to splinter. Even the country’s lead prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, who used to be an integral part of the administration, is now speaking up against the government’s repressive actions and demanding an end to the violence.
Yet instead of calling for elections, Maduro continues to try and consolidate his dictatorship — he recently announced a push to rewrite the constitution. So while the people are demanding basic human rights and democracy, Maduro, in typical dictatorial fashion, is doubling down on repression.
Indeed, the musical protests are being heard around the world, loud and clear: Fortississimo!
Following Willy’s violin incident, young musicians have come out en masse to play the songs of freedom all across Venezuela, to protest with their weapons of choice — musical instruments. Many of these musicians are from poor neighborhoods, which have traditionally supported Hugo Chavez and his successor, Maduro. These desperate times mean that more and more Venezuelans now march to the same tune.
And so, when Oscarcito, a famous Venezuelan singer, posted a viral videoof himself buying Willy a new violin, yet another loud blow was dealt to the regime. Soon after Oscarcito’s post, Willy responded with his own.
This time, he was defiantly playing a traditional Venezuelan folk song with his brand new violin. It turns out that in Venezuela, while they may take away our lives, they will never take away our music.