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Venezuela border tensions following rival concerts

Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuela Aid Live went head to head with the Venezuelan government’s Hands Off Venezuela on Friday, embodying the continuing power struggle between president Nicolás Maduro and self-declared, internationally recognised interim president Juan Guaidó.

The Virgin Group founder announced plans earlier this month to host a charity concert to raise funds for humanitarian aid for Venezuelans and increase international awareness of the crisis in the country.  The concert was backed by opposition leader and self-declared interim president, Guaidó. In response, Venezuelan president Maduro organised his own, rival concert, in support of his now widely unrecognised government.

The concerts took place on either end of the Tienditas bridge, which connects Venezuela and Colombia. Venezuela Aid Live was held in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, whereas the government-backed event took place on the Venezuelan side of the bridge.

More than 30 artists played at Branson’s event, which was attended and supported by the presidents of Chile, Colombia and Paraguay. Venezuelan singer Reymar Perdomo opened the concert with ‘Me Fui’, which has become an “angry hymn” for expatriate Venezuelans.

Fellow Venezuelan expat, Danny Ocean, performed ‘Dembow’ and reggaeton hit ‘Me Rehúso’. Other notable performances came from Mexican Paulina Rubio, Colombian Carlos Vives and Argentinian Diego Torres.

Luis Fonsi performed his famous reggaeton song ‘Despacito’, announcing afterwards: “Please, people of Venezuela, know that you are not alone.”

On the other side of the bridge, around 1,000 people attended Maduro’s concert, including members of the national army. Performances came from Venezuelan artists, including singer César “El Magnate” and rock group Yugular.

Branson’s concert was organised to raise money for humanitarian aid for Venezuelans, as the country continues to suffer severe food and medicine shortages. On the day following the concerts, trucks carrying US humanitarian aid attempted to cross the border into Venezuela from Cúcuta.

The Venezuelan National Guard blocked the entry of the aid vans, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at civilians attempting to cross the border. At least three aid trucks near the Colombian border were burned.


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“How many concerts are they going to stage?”: Rival factions plot Venezuela shows

There will be rival benefit concerts in Venezuela this week, with British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and the internationally unrecognised Venezuelan government respectively organising competing anti- and pro-regime events.

Sir Richard – whose music industry ventures include Virgin Records, the UK’s V Festival and the new Virgin Fest in the US – last week announced a Live Aid-style event, Venezuela Aid Live, to raise US$100 million funds for victims of the country’s worsening political and economic crisis.

Branson, reportedly a supporter of Juan Guaidó, the internationally recognised interim president of Venezuela, will hold his event over the Colombian border, in the city of Cucuta, this Friday (22 February). Latin stars Luis Fonsi – of ‘Despacito’ fame – Danny Ocean, Juanes, Carlos Vives, Lele Pons, Maluma, Nacho and Fonseca are slated to perform, as is Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz and Britain’s Peter Gabriel.

Around 300,000 people are expected to attend, with the whole concert available to watch by international audiences via live stream.

“Do we really want Venezuela to turn into another Iraq or Syria and Libya?”

Not to be outdone, the government of president Nicholas Maduro – who clings onto power with Chinese and Russian backing, following a disputed 2018 election – today announced a two-day concert of its own, set to take place in Venezuela on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 June.

According to Muros Invisibles, a news agency based in Colombia, Maduro’s ‘megaconcert’ will be called Hands Off Venezuela – a rallying cry adopted by those opposed to regime change in Venezuela – and follow a day of protests on Saturday.

Controversially, Maduro’s government has ordered security forces to block Western humanitarian aid from entering the country, despite severe food and medicine shortages, saying the aid is intended by the US to “enslave” Venezuelans.

Dylan Baddour, a Colombia-based journalist, reports Venezuela Aid Live will take place near the Tienditas International Bridge, which is clogged with shipping containers containing US aid. Yesterday evening, Maduri said Venezuela would instead import 300 tons of aid from its ally, Russia.

Despite the deepening humanitarian crisis, Roger Waters – the outspoken former Pink Floyd frontman and a supporter of Maduro – has criticised Sir Richard for his perceived ties to the pro-Western Guaidó, alleging Venezuela Aid Live is a front for a US-backed coup.

In a video posted to his Facebook page, Waters says: “Even if you listen to their shtick, it has nothing to do with humanitarian aid at all. It has to do with Richard Branson – and I’m not surprised by this – having bought the US saying, ‘We have decided to take over Venezuela, for whatever our reasons may be.’

“But it has nothing to do with the needs of the Venezuelan people, it has nothing to do with democracy, it has nothing to do with freedom, and it has nothing to do with aid.

“I have friends who are in Caracas right now. There is, so far, no civil war, no mayhem, no murder, no apparent dictatorship, no mass imprisonment of opposition, no suppression of the press, none of that is going on – even though that is the narrative that is being sold to the rest of us.

“They’re now making up a concert. How many concerts are they going to stage?”

“So we just need to back off – particularly Richard Branson.”

He also appealed to Gabriel – a friend who usually shares Waters’ politics, for example in their support of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement – to “please call me. I want to talk to you about this, because it’s very easy to be led down a garden path that ends in regime change. Do we really want Venezuela to turn into another Iraq or Syria and Libya? I don’t. And neither do the Venezuelan people.”

It is unclear whether Waters will perform at the Maduro-backed concert, which has so far yet to announce a line-up. IQ has contacted the Venezuelan information ministry for comment.

The move by Maduro’s government to stage a rival concert is “desperate”, Guaidó tells the Associated Press. “They’re debating whether the aid should come in or not […] They don’t know what to do.

“They’re now making up a concert. How many concerts are they going to stage?”


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