Freemuse concerned about continued violations of artistic freedom in Venezuela

15 September 2017
Artists in Venezuela are among the many groups that are suffering human rights violations as authorities justify restrictions due to political turmoil.
Millions of Venezuelans marching on 20 May 2017 during the We Are Millions march/Wikicommons


Artists in Venezuela are among the many groups of people that have been bearing the brunt of human rights violations as authorities justify such restrictions due to the deteriorating situation and political turmoil in the country.

Freemuse is concerned about the continued violations of the right to artistic freedom of expression in Venezuela, heavily intensified in frequency and gravity by the current political situation. In times of political instability and socioeconomic turmoil, states should still abide by the international obligations they have subscribed to under international law, and respect the rights of artists.

Venezuela’s current political and socioeconomic breakdown corresponds to various developments which, since March 2017, have progressively led to the increased power of President Nicolás Maduro and his party, as well as the increased crack down on political opposition. Amidst these developments, Venezuela is enduring a strong economic crisis, with a reported inflation rate of 700% and severe shortages in basic supplies. In response, Venezuelans are taking to the streets, almost daily, to protest the government’s decisions and demand a leadership change.

Violinist detained and beaten

One of the most prominent attacks on artistic freedom in Venezuela is that of violinist Wuilly Arteaga who was detained by the National Guard on 27 July 2017, according to El Nacional. He spent 19 days in prison, where he was brutally beaten – including with his own violin.

“They burned his hair with a lighter; beat him very hard – meaning that he can’t hear through his right ear,” said Alfredo Romero, head of the Penal Forum rights group.

Arteaga was arrested without a warrant and charged three days later with “public instigation” and “possession of a flammable substance”, something that Romero denies Arteaga was carrying, reported El Comercio. Upon release, Arteaga was ordered to appear before the authorities every eight days and has been barred from participating in public demonstrations, reported El País.

The musician had previously been injured on 22 July 2017 by security forces in a demonstration when he was shot in the face with a pellet gun; his violin had been destroyed by the National Guard in a separate incident on 24 May 2017, as he explained in a video to NTN24. From the hospital bed, after having been shot, he said on a Twitter video that: “Neither rubber bullets, nor pellets, nor smashing my violin will stop us, because whatever happens, we are going to continue the fight, Venezuela”.

Arteaga became famous in Venezuela, and made worldwide headlines, by playing his violin in front of security lines in anti-government demonstrations after a fellow violinist, Armando Cañizales, was shot dead while confronting the National Guard during protests on 3 May 2017, reported ABC News.

Cañizales was a member of the National Orchestra System led by conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who since the musician’s death has spoken out in various media about the growing insecurity in Venezuela and has appealed to President Maduro to “listen to the people”.

Orchestra tour cancelled

On 21 August 2017, the Venezuelan National Youth Orchestra’s programmed US tour was cancelled by Maduro’s office, which some local media suspect was done in retaliation to the conductor’s criticism, reported the BBC.

UPDATE: On 12 October 2017, orchestra conductor Gustavo Dudamel announced on social media that yet another tour of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, which he directs, had been cancelled by the Venezuelan government a week ahead of its start, reported The New York Times. The orchestra’s scheduled Asia tour is the second to be cancelled by the Maduro administration, following Dudamel’s remarks against the course of action taken by the president to manage the country’s ongoing crisis.

Another member of the orchestra system, musician Frederick Pinto, was detained on 4 April 2017 in Caracas as he was on his way to a rehearsal in an area that was near a demonstration, according to El Universal. Pinto, who was carrying his cornet, repeatedly identified himself as an orchestra musician while police officers beat him.

Despite the officers identifying the instrument in the case, Pinto was detained by the National Intelligence Service and was released a few hours later. Tarek William Saab, the Venezuelan ombudsman at the time, called for a thorough investigation of the arrest. Pinto and his family reportedly started receiving a number of threats to not speak out, which also led them to flee to Spain, reported El Nacional on 9 July 2017.

The Venezuelan conflict has also expanded beyond its borders. Paul Gillman, a famous Venezuelan musician, saw his ‘Rock al Parque’ (Rock in the Park) Colombian festival performance cancelled by the Bogotá District Institute of Arts, reported El Tiempo. On 12 May 2017, Gillman received a letter stating that his show was being pulled from the programme with no official statement from the organizers. When it was announced that Gillman, who is a well-known supporter of Maduro’s regime, would perform at the event, organisers began to receive complaints calling for his removal.

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