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Richard Branson Announces Latin Star-Studded ‘Venezuela Aid Live’ Concert

richard branson
Anthony Harvey/Getty Images for Free The Children
FRANCES MARTEL

Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson announced on Friday the launch of an effort to raise $100 million in 60 days for the people of Venezuela centered around “Venezuela Aid Live,” a concert featuring some of the biggest names in the Latin American music industry.

Multiple reports have listed top acts like J Balvin, Maluma, Ricardo Montaner, and Juan Luis Guerra on the short list of artists performing. At press time, British rock legend Peter Gabriel is the only English-language artist listed to perform.

The concert is scheduled to take place on February 22 in Cúcuta, Colombia, the border town where dictator Nicolás Maduro has blocked $20 million in American food and medical aid from entering Venezuela. Cúcuta is a common transit point for Venezuelans seeking to flee the country. As Branson notes in his launch video, at least 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country in the past five years, triggering the worst migrant crisis in modern Latin American history and rivaling the Syrian migrant crisis.

Unlike the English-language entertainment industry in America, where some of the nation’s most prominent celebrities supported socialist dictator Hugo Chávez and others continue to support Maduro, America’s mainstream entertainment industry is largely united in supporting the Venezuelan people in their struggle to end two decades of socialist rule.

In a video posted to social media announcing the concert, currently titled Venezuela Aid Live, Branson says that interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó and political prisoner Leopoldo López, the leader of Guaidó’s socialist Popular Will party, “asked us to organize a beautiful concert” to bring humanitarian aid into the country. Guaidó, upon being sworn into office on January 23, vowed to make bringing food and medical aid into the country his top priority.

“Venezuela is suffering. Not that long ago, it was the wealthiest country in South America. Now it is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere,” Branson says in the video. “Over 3 million Venezuelans have been displaced … Nicolás Maduro’s regime, which is responsible for this crisis, is currently refusing to allow any humanitarian aid in the country.”

In a statement on Virgin’s website, Branson says the concert idea derives from prior humanitarian efforts from musicians in modern history.

“I know a thing or two about the music business, and I’m old enough to remember how George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and Bob Geldof’s LiveAid moved the world to action,” Branson writes. “And so I’ve offered to help organise an international benefit concert, Venezuela Aid Live, which myself and Bruno Ocampo are happy to announce will take place on February 22nd in Cucuta, Colombia, right on the Venezuelan border.”

A website set up for the concert states that “our goal is to raise $100 million dollars in 6 days and reopen Venezuela’s border so humanitarian aid can finally reach those millions who need it the most.”

Branson states that 100 percent of the concert proceeds will go to the Venezuelan people. Maduro has not responded to the announcement at press time and Branson has not offered an explanation for how his project intends to get the aid into Venezuela if Maduro continues blocking the border.

While Maduro is no longer the legitimate president of Venezuela – and dozens of countries around the world recognize Guaidó as the president of Venezuela – he retains control of the military and has used it to block humanitarian aid and violently repress pro-democracy protesters. The Maduro regime insists that humanitarian aid from America is a ruse to disguise an invasion of U.S. troops meant to re-colonize the country and steal its oil. Maduro’s vice president, Delcy Rodríguez, speculated this week that the food shipped to Cúcuta was “poisoned” and “carcinogenic,” warning Venezuelans that had already crossed the border into Colombia not to eat it.

The Venezuela Aid Live concert has attracted some of the most popular musical artists currently active in Latin America. Modern reggaetón artists popular throughout the United States. J Balvin, Maluma, and Luis Fonsi will reportedly perform at the event. Also on the list are the Venezuelan romance ballad star Ricardo Montaner, his sons Mau y Ricky (themselves a successful reggaetón act), Dominican music legend Juan Luis Guerra, Spanish pop icon Miguel Bosé, and Colombians Carlos Vives and Juanes. With the potential exception of J Balvin – famous in the United States for collaborations with Cardi B and Beyoncé – most are not popular outside of the U.S. Hispanic community but are household names throughout the Western Hemisphere. At press time, the only English-language artist on the list is Peter Gabriel.

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