Relief! Venezuelan police free kidnapped Simon Bolivar musician

Relief! Venezuelan police free kidnapped Simon Bolivar musician


norman lebrecht

December 05, 2013

Two days after he was held captive while travelling to Caracas, Luis Castro, horn player of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, was sprung by a police raid early today. We are delighted he is safe and sound.


simon bolivar orch


  • Nelson Armitano says:

    Glad you are delighted, and so must be his loved ones … Maybe a good opportunity to talk about the issue of this daily tragedy in a nation in which the number of kidnaping victims are in the thousands … Not to mention the 500 plus violent deaths in Caracas alone, every month.

  • Sam McElroy says:

    This in the week in which Transparency International released global corruption data. Venezuela ranked 160/175, more corrupt than Zimbabwe or Myanmar, and sharing the bottom of the league with Yemen and Somalia. El Sistema is sustained by a dark and sinister regime, and will not dare to campaign against corruption or violence – Caracas is the most deadly capital city on earth – until one of the musicians is killed. I imagine rank was pulled to rescue this lucky musician, as the PR fallout would have been unsustainable. 22,000 Venezuelans were murdered last year, 12 times the murder rate of the US, and the third highest national murder rate in the world. With the largest oil reserves on the planet, the extent of the nation’s mismanagent is incomprehensible. El Sistema provides a convenient and exquisitely marketed deflection from reality.

  • I really don’t see why and how Sam McElroy mixes El Sistema with corruption and violence in Venezuela. As an English-speaking Venezuelan writer I continually engage foreigners to make them understand how democracy has been eroded during the Chavez and Maduro regimes, and how our government has sometimes ignored and sometimes even encouraged violence. But I do not see how El Sistema fits into this. It is a social program that keeps 500,000 children and young people off the streets and away from drugs and crime. Believe me that nobody that lives in Venezuela thinks of Gustavo Dudamel and immediately forgets about the increasing homicide rate, the hyperinflation, the shortage of goods or the government’s authoritarianism. El Sistema is one of the only reasons we have to be proud and to have faith that there can be a better Venezuela. Maybe you should go speak to the mothers of the children involved and explain to them how their kids are taking part in “a convenient and exquisitely marketed deflection from reality”.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      Juan, perhaps I was unclear. I fully understand the enormous benefits of El Sistema to the children. Of course. That is not in question. I also understand that El Sistema existed long before Chavez came to power, and has survived several changes of power. What I am saying is that today El Sistema has become a convenient propaganda tool for the government that currently sustains it, engineered or otherwise. I cite the following video, produced by El Sistema and thus funded by the government, as an example: It presents a joyful, but carefully choreographed, celebration of music and the Venezuela you want to be proud of, that gives you hope. And it certainly feels good to watch it. But it deflects from the truth of life on the ground as it is in Venezuela today, of which Venezuelans are aware, but about which the broader world knows very little. It conveniently presents a symbol of progress to the international press, but conceals the reality of a collapsing nation. On the day on which Maduro enacted his third decree, to counteract hyperinflation by artificially controlling the price of cars in the free market, and while Transparency International was releasing its damning corruption data, BBC News was running a profile of Jose Antonio Abreu and the work of El Sistema. It seems the fairytale is always more palatable than the reality. I think it is time for El Sistema to take moral ownership of itself as a real tool for progress, by launching an open and explicit campaign against violence and corruption, without fear of biting the hand that feeds it.

      • I am glad we agree on the enormous benefits of El Sistema for the children and young people involved. We also agree that the Chavez and Maduro governments have used El Sistema as a public relations tool, to try to distract Venezuelans and foreigners from what happens in my country. In 2007, when the government shut down independent television channel RCTV (the first of 34 radio and TV channels that have been shut down by the government) the first content aired by TVES, the government-funded channel that replaced it, was a recording of Venezuela’s national anthem, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Indeed this was the government using El Sistema for its own benefit, but does this mean that El Sistema was complicit in shutting down RCTV? I think that is a stretch. You mention the Venezuelan Flashmob video, which you say was “produced by El Sistema and thus funded by the government”. El Sistema is not completely funded by the government. A lot of what happens on the ground, in the nucleos, is funded by governors and mayors, and some of them are from the opposition. For example, ex presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state and leader of the opposition, has been a firm supporter of El Sistema. Private companies like Empresas Polar, that are regularly attacked by the government, also fund El Sistema. You are not the first person to criticise the flashmob video. When it went viral last month, some Venezuelans suggested it was part of a public relations campaign financed by the government. But the film, which was shot back in March, is the brain child of Pedro Moya and Marielvy D’Apollo Valero, both of whom publicly campaigned for Capriles in the last two presidential elections. They just wanted to produce a film to inspire the children in El Sistema. The fact that the film uses the song “Venezuela”, which certainly tugs at the heart strings of people in my country, but is hardly known anywhere else in the world, suggests that it is not a video designed to manipulate international public opinion. That said, I agree with you about the poor coverage that the BBC and other international media usually do of Venezuela. Between opposition politicians and independent NGOs, there are many people in my country regularly denouncing the arbitrary and authoritarian actions of Maduro, and their voices are seldom heard outside Venezuela. Maybe foreign journalists need to realise there are other Venezuelans besides Abreu and Dudamel.