Venezuela’s Chavista dictatorship, like other autocracies, has used art as propaganda. The Chaivsta regime, for instance, has tried to present conductor Gustavo Dudamel‘s musical talents as its own. In truth, however, the regime is no friend to artists.
In 2017, hundreds of citizens have used music as a means of protest against Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship. Renowned singers such as Franco de Vita, Ricardo Montaner and Jesús Miranda (Chino) have denounced the Chavista regime’s abuses against the Venezuelan people. But less well known artists have also taken their instruments out on the streets in order to stand up for their freedom.
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Take the case of Wuilly Arteaga, a 23 year-old Venezuelan who made a living by playing his violin on the streets of Caracas. Arteaga became famous when he and his girlfriend confronted armed members of the thuggish Bolivarian National Police (PNB) with their instruments alone. While the regime’s security forces sprayed peaceful protesters with tear gas, Arteaga played the Venezuelan national anthem and demanded that the policemen put down their weapons. According to several eyewitnesses, some members of the police force broke down in tears when they beheld Arteaga’s bravery and that of his colleagues.
Arteaga immediately became a symbol of civil society’s struggle against the Chavista dictatorship in Venezuela. The young violinist received press coverage once again when members of the Bolivarian National Guard destroyed his violin. Images of Arteaga in grief due to the loss of the instrument he used to put food on his table were seen across the world.
Due to the financial support of many Venezuelans, Arteaga obtained a new violin. His story reached the United States, where artists such as Shakira and Mark Anthony were moved by his courage. Arteaga was then invited to Washington DC, where he performed in the Victims of Communism Memorial, after which he was interviewed on CNN’s Spanish channel.
Due to Arteaga’s quick rise to international fame, the Venezuelan regime unleashed a judicial witch hunt against him. In June, 2017, the Venezuelan security forces injured Arteaga during a street protest by firing pellets at his face. Posting an image of his wounded face on Twitter, Arteaga vowed not to give up the struggle against the Chavista tyranny.
On July 28, Bolivarian National Guard members arrested Arteaga as the opposition staged a national strike in order to protest against Maduro’s constituent assembly, a power move meant to rob the National Assembly, the Venezuelan parliament, of all its powers. According to Foro Penal Venezolano, an NGO, Arteaga was accused of fomenting civil unrest and of possession of explosive materials.
Foro Penal Venezolano reports that Arteaga was tortured, beaten, and burnt by the Venezuelan security forces. Numerous lawyers and human rights organizations have denounced flagrant irregularities in Arteaga’s case. The defendant, for instance, was not allowed to choose an attorney, but was rather assigned one against his will. He was also taken to a court 48 hours after his detention even though the law demands that any detainee not taken before a judge 48 hours after being detained must be freed.
Due to the Attorney General’s efforts, Arteaga was granted the possibility of leaving prison on bail. Nevertheless, the amount stipulated is beyond his means according to Foro Penal Venezolano, and Arteaga remains incarcerated.
At least 14 people were killed on Sunday, July 30, as Nicolás Maduro carried out the elections for his illegal constituent assembly against the will of the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans. For now, those protesting for their freedom on the streets of Caracas will have to do without Arteaga’s music.