Venezuela Aid Live: A Music Event Spurs Confrontations at the Border

This story was originally published in Spanish by Rolling Stone Colombia‘s editors. Read the original Spanish version here.

Update 2/23/18: The moment of music has long passed. It was nearing 7 a.m. on Saturday when the Colombian authorities were preparing to pass along humanitarian aid to Venezuela. The night before, however, Delcy Rodríguez, vice president of Venezuela, announced the closure of the Simón Bolívar, Unión and Santander Bridges for “serious and illegal threats attempted by the Government of Colombia against La Paz.”

By 8 a.m., members of the Bolivarian National Guard had already deserted; but Venezuelan soldiers, who prevented their passage to their country, guarded the same border. In Ureña, one of the municipalities closest to the Colombian-Venezuelan border, there were protests and clashes between citizens — who demanded the passage of humanitarian aid — and the military that was preventing it.

Colombian president Iván Duque handed aid over to Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader, at a press conference, and Guaidó said: “We ask the Venezuelan military to stand on the right side and receive their brothers who are taking help to serve the people of Venezuela.” Tractors loaded with supplies arrived at the Simón Bolívar Bridge, where hundreds of volunteers were prepared to pass humanitarian aid via human chain.

During a demonstration in Caracas, Nicolás Maduro announced that he was breaking political and diplomatic relations with Colombia, giving all diplomatic personnel 24 hours to leave Venezuela. As the hours wore on, there were reports that at least 23 members of the Venezuelan military and police had defected at the borders. Convoys of trucks carrying food aid and medical supplies set off for Venezuela from border towns in Colombia and Brazil. Volunteers, protestors and opposition leaders were met with teargas and rubber bullets, and at least three aid trucks near the Colombian border were burned.


CÚCUTA, COLOMBIA 2/22/18 — According to its website (where people can still donate), organizers of Friday’s Venezuela Aid Live Concert sought to bring humanitarian aid across the border from Colombia to reach the most-affected Venezuelans, raise awareness of the situation in Venezuela and raise funds for a social development plan through which expatriates could return to their country.

Reymar Perdomo opened the concert with “Me Fui (I Left)” a song that has become a hymn of sorts for Venezuelan expatriates, and with a video that went viral throughout Latin America. Perdomo is Venezuelan and has been living in Lima, Peru, playing and singing in buses.

After the performance, Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group and organizer of the festival, gave a speech in which he thanked the attendees for being in Cúcuta to celebrate the lives of all Venezuelans. “If we can take people into space, why is it so difficult to get people out of poverty?” he said. People chanted: “Richard, Richard, Richard!” To hasten the change of artists on the stage, there was a revolving platform: As some musicians played on one side of the stage, instruments belonging to the following acts were simultaneously being mounted.

Venezuelan singer Jose Luis Rodriguez, A.K.A. “El Puma,” came out and started with a very clear message. “Thanks to dear Colombia and the United States,” he said — adding, “Enough of left-wing dictatorships in Latin America!” The political play was set from the start. He sang “Agárrense las Manos (Hold Your Hands),” with an instrumental backing track in lieu of a band.

Reinaldo Armas, Cholo Valderrama and Jorge Glem ushered in a bit of llanera, a type of music from the Venezuelan countryside. Then came Jencarlos Canela with his hit “Bajito (Short),” while improvising verses that invited people to donate; then Venezuelan expat star Danny Ocean. Wearing a T-shirt that depicted Nelson Mandela eating an arepa, Ocean got the crowd to dance along with “Dembow” and his international hit, “Me Rehúso (I Refuse).”

Later in the afternoon, the most anticipated names came out: Paulina Rubio brought her gritty pop-rock and Diego Torres sang, as would be expected, his iconic song “Color Esperanza (Color of Hope).” Silvestre Dangond got the party started all over again, and Maluma, accompanied only on guitar, followed amid overwhelming noise from fans.

Miguel Bosé, who was at the border 11 years ago for the Concert for Peace that Juanes organized, had the Tienditas Bridge brimming with emotion and tears. Then, Carlos Baute landed with “Te Regalo (I Give You)” and, obviously, “Yo Me Quedo en Venezuela (I Stay in Venezuela).” Luis Fonsi topped it off with “Despacito,” then Juan Luis Guerra flaunted his classic catalog with “Ojala Que Llueva Café (I Hope It Rains Coffee).” Fonseca sang Te Mando Flores/I Sent You Flowers,” which (fittingly) gave way to Colombian star Carlos Vives.

While there was a party on one side — with attendees singing on the border between Venezuela and Brazil at the Tienditas Bridge — in the Venezuelan state of Bolívar, two indigenous people died at the hands of the Bolivarian National Guard, according to the NGO Kapé Kapé. According to Semana magazine, they were trying to keep a road open to allow the entry of humanitarian aid when special forces broke in. In addition to the two deceased, there were also 15 injured.

After 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the Maduro-endorsed “Hands Off Venezuela” concert finally began. Mainly comprised of Venezuelan artists related to the government of Maduro — such as Paul Gillman, who sang “Resistiré,” while waving the flag of his country, as well as jazz group Skaracas — it was also rumored that the band Grupo Niche refused to play in the concert.

With regards to the musical production itself, Venezuela Aid Live left much to be desired due to technical difficulties, issues with instruments, the overuse of backing tracks and the crowd being excessively far from the stage. Sure, people enjoyed it — and the most crucial goal of all was well beyond the experience of the show itself. If Branson wanted to put the eyes of the world on the border, he succeeded.

Many international news agencies were reporting live from Cúcuta, with journalists from all over Latin America in attendance, along with those from United States, Canada, Portugal and Spain. Anti-Maduro speeches by several of the artists sent a clear message that would surely annoy Roger Waters. It has yet to be seen if humanitarian aid will finally make it across the border.

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