Virgin Group tycoon Richard Branson surprised many last week with the announcement of his involvement in a charity concert to benefit the starving people of Venezuela, entering their third decade of socialism oppression.
While explicitly condemning dictator Nicolás Maduro for denying his people humanitarian aid, however, Branson is planning a luxury event that will directly benefit Maduro’s patrons and puppetmasters in Havana – a move likely to undo much of the good Branson’s “Venezuela Aid Live” could do for that country.
Defecting Venezuelan officials have estimated that the true power in the nation lies in the hands of between 50,000 and nearly 100,000 Cuban government agents – intelligence officials, soldiers, medical administrators, and others sent by dictator Raúl Castro to teach Maduro’s forces the violent repressive tactics that have kept the communists in power on the island for 60 years. Cuba’s stranglehold over the Venezuelan socialists is so complete that late dictator Hugo Chávez sought out medical help in Cuba in his final days, while Maduro regularly flees to Havana for advice on how to handle pro-democracy protesters in times of turmoil.
American intelligence officials reportedly believe Maduro uses only Cuban government agents as bodyguards, as he does not trust Venezuelan soldiers not to kill him.
The average Venezuelan lost 24 pounds in 2017 involuntarily and has no access to three meals a day. Maduro refuses to allow humanitarian aid to enter the country, denying the existence of any humanitarian crisis and refusing to invest domestic funds in helping Venezuelans. Instead, Maduro recently shipped millions in aid to Cuba to help the dictatorship reconstruct the already dilapidated neighborhoods destroyed this month by a tornado in Havana.
Branson addressed the crisis last week and explicitly named Maduro the culprit of Venezuela’s manmade disaster.
“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 said in a video posted on social media. “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.”
Branson then announced that, in response to a request from Venezuela’s interim President Juan Guaidó and political prisoner Leopoldo López, the head of Guaidó’s party, he was organizing a charity concert with the goal of raising $100 million in six days for the Venezuelan people.
“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 wrote in a statement on Virgin’s website, insisting that 100 percent of proceeds will go to food and medicine for Venezuelans.
Branson did not provide details on who will attend the concert – though reports have floated some of the biggest names in the Latin American music industry as being interested in the project – or how the aid will reach Venezuelans. Maduro’s troops blocked the bridge connecting Cúcuta, Colombia, where the concert is scheduled to take place, to the Venezuelan border specifically to block a $20 million shipment of U.S. aid sent to the country last week.
Maduro’s government accused Branson of “using artists to legitimize military aggression.” The regime insists that shipments of humanitarian aid contain hidden American soldiers who will attack the country once on the other side of the border.
Questions regarding how Branson’s aid will reach Venezuelans aside, the British tycoon is scheduled to undermine his efforts to help the Venezuelan people with his 70th birthday party. Branson made a second major announcement last week in addition to signing up for “Venezuela Aid Live”: as part of the launch of his new cruise line, Virgin Voyages, Branson would celebrate his 70th birthday on a ship departing from Florida to Cuba on July 15, 2020.
“Sir Richard Branson will celebrate his birthday bash among celebrity friends and fellow Sailors aboard a four-night Havana After Dark voyage departing July 15, 2020,” Virgin Voyages website announced last week, confirming the trip would occur on the “Scarlet Lady,” a ship described as “all retro-futuristic design and smart-tech cabins” with “Rock Star Suites” offering “mood-matching lights and configurable beds as well as Netflix-bingeing capabilities.”
Trips on the Scarlet Lady will begin in April 2020; the non-birthday tickets begin at a price of $3,850.
There is, of course, no way to confirm how much of the proceeds of the trips to Havana the Castro regime will pocket, but there is no reason to believe it will not be a significant amount. The Cuban government has illegally possessed the nation’s ports since dictator Fidel Castro stole them from their owners, many of them Americans and future Cuban-Americans exiled from their country for opposing communism.
The regime charges fees for docking in those ports and only recently, in the Obama era, began to allow American ships to dock. Carnival Cruises, the first corporation to send a cruise ship from Florida to Havana, was willing to violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act and ban Cuban-Americans from its cruises on behalf of the regime (after a class action lawsuit filed against it, Carnival backtracked). The Carnival Adonia’s “historic” landing led to the violent arrest of a pro-democracy dissident, Daniel Llorente, for waving an American flag to greet the ship.
The rightful owners of the docks used for these tourist efforts launched an awareness campaign last year to inform potential travelers that they are trafficking in stolen property and funding a human rights violating regime.
“Americans have been sold this lie, this bad deal of goods, that Cuba is this idyllic, struggling banana republic where you go and enjoy your week there salsa dancing with mojitos,” Dr. Javier García-Bengochea, rightful owner of the Port of Santiago de Cuba, told Breitbart News last year. “But the rum brands, the cigar brands, even the old American jalopies are stolen.”
Cuba owes an estimated $7 billion in property stolen from American citizens during the 1959 Revolution, of which the ports are a part. The Castro regime rejects any claims to property by the original owners, instead using the property, trademarks, and products it stole to keep its regime and, increasingly, Venezuela’s, afloat.
The Castro regime has had colonial aspirations to control Venezuela’s prodigious crude oil reserves since 1967 but did not succeed in cementing its control until the Chávez era. Chávez used the country’s natural resources to buy not only Cuba’s support at international venues like the United Nations, but Cuba’s expertise in building a long-lasting leftist dictatorship. Defecting Venezuelan Maj. Gen. Antonio Rivero told reporters in 2017 that, by 2010, “there was a permanent presence of approximately 92,700 Cubans carrying various missions in all areas and sectors of the [socialist] government.” Estimates at the time put the number of senior military officials at “3 generals, 12 colonels and lieutenant colonels, 6 frigate captains and 25 other officers of various ranks.”
Former political prisoners say the Cubans were the primary torturers in charge of non-criminal prisoners. The prisoners have largely recalled the distinctive Cuban accents they heard while being beaten, blindfolded, or watching fellow prisoners endure beating, sleep deprivation, and contortions.
Following the legal removal of Maduro from power in January – which Maduro, still in charge of the Venezuelan military, refuses to acknowledge – the Cuban military threatened to “defend” Maduro from any action to physically remove him from the presidential palace.
The Cuban economy, like that of all communist regimes, is in shambles, reliant mainly on either the largess of sympathetic countries like Russia and China and profits from doing business with Western corporations. There is no reason to expect that the profits from the Virgin Voyages tours, and Branson’s birthday bash in particular, will not be funnelled into the repression of the peaceful Venezuelan protesters Branson claims to want to help with his concert effort.
Some in the Cuban anti-communist community have noted that it is the concert, not the cruise, that is out of character for Branson. The billionaire has previously boasted of enjoying a limousine ride with Fidel Antonio Castro Smirnov, the dictator’s grandson, and has dressed up as mass murderer Ernesto “Che” Guevara to promote his business. As the Cuban-American outlet Babalú Blog notes, “Sir Richard has been able to toss millions of Pounds, Euros, and Dollars into the Castro treasury by creating apartheid tourism opportunities for slumming bigots from all nations, principally through his Virgin Atlantic airline and his new Virgin Voyages Cruises.”
Branson’s concern for Venezuela may be legitimate – and, if so, he appears woefully unaware of the role the Cuban regime he is comfortable doing business with has played in the humanitarian crisis he hopes to help end. Guaidó, who reportedly reached out to Branson for the concert, is clearly aware; he urged Cuban soldiers to leave the country, or at least disobey Maduro, during a speech shortly after taking office. The proximity of Virgin’s cruise announcement and the Venezuela Aid Live launch may prove an opportunity for Branson to educate himself on the damage the Castro regime continues to cause throughout the continent.