Breaking: Two Sistema musicians are murdered in Venezuela

State-sponsored violence has struck at the heart of the music project.

Carlos Hernandez, 13, was killed by a criminal gang in the town of Cantaura, Anzoátegui state, while Jimbert Hernandez, 15, was caught in a shootout in the parish of La Vega.

Both played in El Sistema youth orchestras. Details here.

How long before he speaks out?

dudamel rear venezuela

A correspondent adds: Very often, after 10-12 hrs rehearsing until late at night, El Sistema players return home without any protection. Most often on the very dangerous public transport. Months ago, a key ES musician, told us that MANY of them had been kidnapped, but it was kept quiet. ES paid the ransoms.

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  • the article says nothing about state sponsorship of violence. It says “delinquents”. From my reading this looks more like robbery/assault for economic reasons, such as you might find in Rio de Janeiro.

  • “State-sponsored”? That would mean that their killings had been sanctioned by the state. There’s nothing in the news report to suggest that. You should consider amending this.

  • This looks a lot less “state-sponsored” to me than any of the police killings lately in the USA. But even in these cases one would expect every responsable journalist to obstain from using such a sentence.

    • There is plenty of documentation to show that much of the violence is state sponsored, and targeted at the middle classes for a well-defined political purpose in what is fast becoming a failed state.

      • I would like to see a smidgin of evidence for THIS story that these sad occurrences are anything other than street violence. The fact that there may be state-sponsored violence in Venezuela does not tar the government with every crime committed in the country. And your She-Who-Can-Do-No-Wrong, Gabriela Montero, is forever braying the evils of Sistema as a propaganda tool for the government. Can’t have it both ways. Though people like her always seem to want to.

        Dudamel has a concert opening tomorrow night so is probably rehearsing with the orchestra today. As it was just 7:00 a.m. L.A. time when I read this post, I think it is possible he is just getting up. But it is unlikely he comments on every murder in Venezuela. According to Montero, and you, there are so many of them. He does have a job.

        • Dudamel certainly doesn’t comment on every murder in Venezuela. It would make his claims that El Sistema is transforming the country into a fount of love, peace and harmony look a little threadbare.

  • Why should he speak out ? he manipulated the system to get to his present position and is a head of a so-so orchestra and the darling of those who foolishly believe he is one
    of ” them ” . He is no dummy ,he knows on what side the bread is buttered .

    • Milka, please….
      1. How did ‘he’ manipulate the system?
      2. On what basis do you describe LAPO a ‘so-so orchestra’?
      3. Where do you get your information?

      • Your first two ? are so obvious in themselves as not to need any elaboration or reply
        the third ,just say from on high .

        • Re 1 & 2: Not obvious to me. Do try to explain your denigration of others to those who don’t have your exacting standards.
          Re 3: What a silly response

      • Not surprisingly, milka provided not a single clear and coherent answer to three simple and fair questions.

  • What a terribly tragic day for the parents of these two children, and for the families of the other 100 or so victims of murder in Venezuela that same day, according to current statistical trends. The latest figures from the OVV suggest an annual reported murder rate of about 25,000 in a population of 29 million. For some perspective, the US and EU combined, with a population of 816 million, suffers about 22,000 murders annually. Or… more Venezuelan citizens have been murdered these last 3 years (about 73,000) than US soldiers killed in the entire Vietnam war (57,000).

    http://observatoriodeviolencia.org.ve/ws/

    Many commentators here are resisting the idea that these killings are “state-sanctioned”, to quote Norman’s characterization, because they were carried out by delinquents. On the face of things, these seem to have been just that: two street murders as a result of robbery.

    But, in the Venezuelan context, causation runs far deeper than that, and lands very firmly at the door of the regime. For those of you less familiar with Venezuela’s disintegration under this regime, the murder rate has increased by 700% since Chavez took power, and, more importantly, the impunity rate hovers at a staggering 96%. In other words, they get away with murder some 24,500 times a year! They can shoot an innocent child in the face and not be punished, or even investigated.

    This is the direct cause of two factors: the new culture of theft, and the collapse of the criminal justice system. Both of these are engineered conditions: only a collapsed and impotent society can be rendered fully subservient.

    For years, Chavez famously exhorted for hours on end on his television show “Allo Presidente!” that the time had come “for people to go out and take what is theirs”. Instead of intelligently fixing the old economic disparities with the vast resources at hand – and such disparities surely existed – he implanted a hateful message of theft and class warfare in the Venezuelan people that lead, not only to the deep partisan divisions we see in Venezuelan society today, but to a wave of violence, kidnapping, theft and murder that has rendered Venezuela the second most dangerous society on earth today, excluding Syria. Chavez, in front of the cameras, would wander the streets and point to buildings and businesses and give the order to expropriate. Private ownership itself became an eroded concept. That culture of theft permeated the highest levels of the regime. Billions of dollars have been syphoned off by officials at every level, placing Venezuela 160th from 175 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index, bankrupting a nation that sits atop the world’s largest reserves of crude oil, and imposing on it the highest levels of inflation on earth.

    http://www.transparency.org/country#VEN
    – NYT: http://goo.gl/9CMGLr

    Underpinning this new atmosphere of theft and entitlement – and in this context of daily economic desperation which is characterized today by Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty as a “hidden humanitarian crisis” – is the total meltdown of the criminal justice system. The guns that shot theses two children are very likely to have been supplied by the police. It is well known in Venezuela that the police collude with criminals to provide the weapons and manpower to carry out kidnappings and robberies for their cut of the takings. With the police so involved in criminality, and the courts run by Chavista judges, nobody is held accountable.

    As for Gabriela Montero (and this is addressed to VLind, who seems contemptuous of the tireless work she has done to protest Venezuela’s atrocious living conditions, a commitment which has seen her appointed Honorary Consul of Amnesty International, https://goo.gl/5jJwgd) she has written many times about the ironic position of the musicians of El Sistema, and always out of concern for their security in the broader context of a dangerous society. For, while they are used by the government to carry the message of the “revolution” abroad through overt symbolism and messaging (see the communist red, Bolivarian flag-adorned cover of DG’s cynically entitled “Fiesta” album, for example http://goo.gl/efN4dg), back home they are as vulnerable a part of the society that the “revolution” has destroyed as any non-musician. In fact, many musicians have expressed their deep fears that their rehearsal schedules often expose them to the amplified dangers of traveling home after dark.

    She has often lamented that, sadly, the musicians can not be immunized against the violence that surrounds them. Beautiful though music is, it is no kevlar shield. The deplorable irony at the heart of this moral dissonance is that for years they have trumpeted though the noble art of music – willingly or otherwise – the barren ideology of Venezuela’s most egregious assailant: their very paymaster, the Venezuelan state apparatus. I am not sure how she merits any opprobrium whatsoever for bringing this irony to light and protesting its inherent discordance.

    But, once again, the underlying message is that we should all speak out, musician or otherwise, in a public, unified voice against a regime that has sanctioned the total decay of a nation, outside of any established political models.

    These 2 children are just the latest victims of that state-engineered decay.

  • Thank you for a fascinating and articulate summation of aspects of Venezuela.

    As you will doubtless have noted, I merely asked for evidence that THIS set of incidents could be directly attributed to sponsorship by the state. Crime is often driven by societal and institutional causes, and not only in Venezuela. Make that suggestion in the US, though, and you get accused of being a “socialist,” a term whose meaning seems to be unknown to most Americans — they think Canada is a “socialist” country. But despite America’s massive crime rate, I don’t hear even the Obama administration being accused of sponsoring all the homicides that take place among drug gangs and other less savoury elements of society. Not in the simplistic terms implied in the blog post.

    As for Ms. Montero, my main issue with her is her constant, and strident, insistence that Dudamel place himself right in the middle of all Venezuelan politics. It’s a point of view, apparently shared by the host of this site, and it reflects a troubling question for all artists. Mr. Lebrecht is very critical of Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko as well for their more explicit association with the Putin regime. (Mysteriously, on a misconceived notion of “free speech” as opposed to the hate speech that is outlawed in Canada and unwelcome to the TSO, he exempted Valentina Lisitsa from criticism despite her pro-Putin stance on HER homeland).

    When movie actors, who consider themselves artists too, speak out on politics, they are often widely criticised for “thinking they have the right to iterate on the issues of the day just because their names are well-known.” I do not endorse that view; I have no more or less interest in what a film star says about a political matter than I would have about what anyone else says: if it is interesting, thoughtful, relevant, it is welcome, though I do not demand their commentary on public affairs. How many American artists spoke out against Bush’s ludicrous exercise in Iraq? Against Abu Ghraib? A few only. Artists like George Clooney come in for a lot of heat for expressing political views.

    But classical musicians, who are known to smaller numbers of people, are never to be exempted from taking a political stance? And in this case, being timed as to when? Should they? MUST they? According to Ms. Montero (yet to be heard from on these crimes, despite her official Amnesty role) Gustavo Dudamel always must. He has publicly argued for being left to be “a simple musician,” in his own words. It is a debate that goes back as far as you want it to — clearly to Wagner and those who will and won’t play and/or hear him, based as much on his biggest fan as on his own objectionable views. To what artists did and did not do during WWII. To artists who perform, or in some cases merely appear, for regimes to which it is currently incorrect to be sympathetic. (Some of the artists who played Sun City in the bad old days seem to have been forgiven now that South Africa is considered one of us — but were they not as “guilty” of propping up bad guys as Hilary Swank was when she went to Grozny for the Chechnyan dictator’s birthday party?).

    Artists are as free, in our society, to participate in politics as they want to be. Are they as entitled as the non-participant members of the general public to stay out of it? Or does their work confer a duty? It will remain a vexed question and one that will be debated for as long as there is public debate. What seems increasingly clear on this site, however, is that not only must artists utter, but they must utter as this site sees fit.

    • V.Lind,

      I appreciate and respect that we are having a solid discussion on this, and it is, of course, a nuanced and case-by-case question. Thank you.

      On the general question of the artist speaking out, I am reminded of Shylock’s potent question, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Each and every member of society is affected by the consequences of a societal meltdown, regardless of their profession.

      If we can assume that, in the face of brutality, we should all offer resistance, then it stands to reason that an artist should, too. The difference between the artist and most others is twofold: if they have regular access to the media, they have a platform from which to represent the voiceless, to give “power to the powerless”, as Havel said. And they are armed with the universally comprehensible, nuanced language of metaphor. Their dissent can be deeply personal, emotive, creative and even beautiful.

      Of course, nobody wants to hear mushy speeches about trivial matters from an inarticulate artist, whatever their discipline. Like you, I am often nauseated by the Miss World level of dialogue from some actors, but I do believe that informed and articulate men like Clooney make a substantial impact on awareness, and policy in turn.

      In the case of Venezuela, as described in my comment above, we have a situation which falls short of any acceptable human rights standards by a very long way. It is the atrocious scale of the regime-engineered crisis that disqualifies it from comparison with the US, or just about anywhere else in the world. Yes, there are enormous problems in the United States, which need to be addressed. You are absolutely right. But here in the US, when human rights are abused, people take to the streets and make their voices heard. The media, imperfect as it is, hosts the discussion with points of view from all sides. Laws are enacted. Social movements rise up.

      In Venezuela, dissenters are imprisoned and tortured. Ask the conductor Carlos Izcaray about his experiences: he was taken by the National Guard for merely observing protests, and tortured with electric cables, gas, cigarette butts, and a gun to his head. It is unimaginable what he went through. Many students still languish in Venezuelan prisons for demanding a better society. We know from sources close to them that they are subjected to torture. The opposition leader himself, Leopoldo Lopez, has been in prison since last February. Again, from close sources, we know that he, too, is mistreated. Recently, guards were ordered from on high, the same “on high” that funds ES, to collect their urine and feces and throw it at him, denying him the right to wash for days afterwards.

      So, with exceptional circumstances comes the exceptional need for action and resistance, and, frankly, courage. Gabriela Montero has often said that she never would have imagined herself in the role in which she finds herself, as an activist. The most cynical accuse her of publicity seeking, without thinking for one second of what she and her family have experienced as result of the Venezuelan crisis, without asking the simple question as to why she, a Venezuelan musician would swim against such a tsunami of popularity in resisting offers to collaborate with the Venezuelan regime – the very opposite of opportunism.

      The answer is clear. Her brother has been kidnapped at gunpoint more than once and suffered a mock execution. He and his family were exiled to the US last year, fearing for their lives. They restart from zero. Her father, too, has felt the fear of five guns aiming at his head. Friends have been killed. Friends have died from basic medical shortages. A friend’s assistant was shot at the bank seven times, when she went to withdraw her savings to buy her mother a mattress. A top geneticist friend, executed for his microwave. Another friend’s son, executed during a robbery “to give you something you won’t forget”. I could go on and on. 73,000 families could add their testimonies from the last years. SOS messages have flowed every day for six years from Venezuela – some looking for medicine, some for food, some for dollars, most for moral support. People just want to know that someone out there is representing them and empathizing with them during this hidden crisis. They want someone to resist the cynical “Fiesta!” narrative (http://goo.gl/efN4dg) drowning out their distress in the concert halls of the world to sell tickets and a lie. They want someone to listen, and take action.

      So, what can I say? You are perfectly justified in claiming that an artist is not obliged to speak out against brutality. We are all free to make our choices. But we can not escape the essential call of our consciences. “The end of art is peace, could be the motto of this frail device…” as Seamus Heaney wrote. But peace does not arise from acquiescence or passivity. It is not enough to blithely pronounce “I’m a simple musician, about peace and love”, while taking funding from, befriending, and actively spreading the moribund ideology of those responsible for the destruction of your nation. Peace must be earned, and love and self-sacrifice are at the very core of active resistance. I would argue strenuously that, in Gabriela Montero’s case, it is nothing but love for her fellow citizen that drives her to such “strident” protest.

      Indeed, can a call to resist such inhumanity be anything less than “constant”, “strident” and “insistent”?

      Respectfully,
      Sam

      • Is Dudamel “selling” anything from his podium at the LA Phil, which is his principal occupation, or in the concert halls of the world where he is guest conductor to the cream of international orchestras? Ms. Montero is certainly entitled to protest what she objects to in her country, and one has to assume she is sincere, but I still do not feel it gives her the right to insist others follow her lead.

        And other posters have argued, not unpersuasively, that Venezuela should hardly be seen in isolation from the general culture of South and Latin America, where violence and corruption have coloured the governments of more countries and generations than not. One might even start, as long as causation is being sought, with the colonial heritage…but I do not wish to go down that route any more than I am prepared to land the current government in Caracas with every street crime that takes place and insist that I am looking at my watch till Gustavo Dudamel jumps into the fray.

        And in some of those countries where torture and abuse have been endemic — Chile under Pinochet comes to mind — Americans were less ready to get aggressive about it, perhaps seeing as they engineered the deposition of a duly-elected government that did not suit their corporate-minded approach to geopolitics. So while I am not interested in defending this Venezuelan government, neither am I prepared to lay ALL the ills of their society at those doors. Mismanaged economy? Sure, and the attendant problems that come with economic woes. But there is still a whiff of the American rightwing agenda in Ms. Montero’s utterances — America’s problem, which has caused mountains of problems for others, has long been its hysterical attitude to communism, which may have been a threat once, but never as serious as the one that American foreign policy made it. Ms. Montero can’t countenance Chavismo, but apparently felt no need to emigrate under Perez, who was pretty monstrous himself, particularly if you were not of the elite.

        I realise the opportunity artists, among others, have, to articulate a vision in difficult times, and I admire those who do. That includes Ms. Montero, if her motives are really driven by social justice and not the desire to get things back to the good old days where the rich were not bothered. But I still find it objectionable to hear her demanding that another named individual must support her — or at least explain why not. Let her look after her own politics, and her own conscience.

  • A comparison of murder rates (as shown on the map linked below) indicates that Venezuela does not stand so far apart from most other Latin American countries. The differences caused by government policies are thus not so large — though anti-Chavistas will strenuously deny this.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/10/worlds-highest-murder-rates_n_5125188.html

    So far, there has never been a Latin American country that has successfully solved the problems with massive class disparities, except Cuba, but it is difficult to judge, because the 50 year long total embargo has caused about $3 trillion of damage to its economy.

    Another curious fact is that Venezuela isn’t a particularly socialist country. It’s government spends less of the country’s GDP than the USA (by about 2 percentage points, and about 14% less than the averages in Europe.)

    People genuinely concerned about the problems in Venezuela must by necessity look at the larger social forces creating these problems that extend across all of Latin America. This is seldom done in the corporate media because it stems from exploitative US economic policies. And in this context, we might note that the CIA has already attempted to overthrow the Venezuelan government just a few years ago. Be wary of the propaganda regardless of which side it comes from.

    • William, your Huff Post link points to a 20% difference between Venezuela’s per capita murder rate, and that of Belize in the number 3 spot. Honduras, of course, is a meltdown all unto itself because of its gang and cartel cancer.

      What you fail to acknowledge – while again placing the blame for everything on the US/CIA – is that under 17 years of Chavismo, the murder rate increased by 700% and inflation is the worst in the world, despite possessing some of the largest supplies of crude oil on earth. http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=ve

      Why can you not acknowledge that Chavez grossly mismanaged abundant resources, the economy and the criminal justice system, and Maduro is doing the same? They had 17 blissfully independent years to figure things out, with a winning lottery ticket in their hands. NOTHING can mitigate the enormity of their failure. And to admit they failed does not mean letting go of your personal political ideals. It just means acknowledging that the people you once believed in got it catastrophically wrong, and themselves became the gross caricatures of excess that you and I understandably reject.

      I have read much of your evidence-based analysis elsewhere, on other topics, so I know you have it within you to accept empirical evidence!

      • There’s no doubt that the Chavistas are idiots who have mismanaged the economy and much else. There is also no doubt that the US government is trying to undermine the Venezuelan government and its economy. So from an empirical perspective, we have to look at both sides of the tortilla to get the full picture. And we have to remember that both sides are providing data that must be viewed with careful, scientific skepticism. Anyway, best of luck with promoting your side of the political views.

        • William, just to be clear, I am not promoting a political viewpoint. I am reporting a humanitarian crisis.

        • Mr. Osborne,

          Thanks for clarify that you think all “chavistas” are idiots who have mismanaged the economy and much else”. After your first message just before this one, I was truly believing on you unconditional support. There is a huge difference between rate of murders caused by robbery and murder, and by political actions. Cuba is the only Latin America country that government has justified the imprisonment and murder of independent journalists on charges that they were acting against the State, for one example among many ones. In Brazil, Chile, Mexico among other the government has many issues, but they aren’t killing people in this way.

          In the other hand, I’m sure you’re going to attack Dudamel if perhaps he turned to be BPO MD (Or any other, specially a male german). Are you sure McElroy is the one here promoting a political viewpoint?

  • This article is a political hit piece. Its purpose is to discredit the Bolivarian Revolution. It is true that violence exists in Venezuela, but it existed before the Bolivarian Revolution, and its roots are poverty, ignorance and inequality. This is a problem that has its roots in colonial and neocolonialist exploitation. When US oil companies ran Venezuela it was worst. People suffered extreme poverty due to oligarchic domination and exploitation and corruption. This all ended with the Bolivarian Revolution. Today illiteracy has been eliminated. University education is free to all. Thanks to 35,000 Cuban doctors and technicians, Venezuelans benefit from high quality free health care saving countless lives just like Cuba saved the world from the scourge of ebola. Venezuelan have received one million free houses, and unemployment is very low. Currently, 650,000 mostly poor kids study in the prestigious El Sistema music program for free. This alone is a huge anti crime program sponsored and paid for by the Bolivarian Revolution. Your heroin, Gabriela Montero, comes from the white/European elite. She never participated in El Sistema. She benefited from elite music academies in Venezuela and Europe and the US something that poor Venezuelan blacks and native can never afford. Nobody cares about the elite opinion of the white oligarchs of Venezuela. Gustavo Dudamel is not a traitor like the elitist Montero. It is a credit to Maestro Dudamel that he maintains his humility and dignity unlike others.

    • Sorry are you referring to the link I posted? I really don’t see how it is trying to discredit anyone. I hope we can all agree that violence and corruption does not distinguish left from right. If we allow the conditions to remain unchecked the disease will spread.

      You really should respect the fact that conflicting narratives occur not because people are lying, but because of real experiences. Nobody gets to choose which side of the fence they are born or brought up in. To label somebody on that basis alone is unfair and wrong. The right to live free of crime, violence and corruption is something you should want for everyone. The achievements you have listed will not be sustainable without it. From what I have read, the situation in parts of the country is that police and some of the armed collectivos are competing with one another for keeping order? If so, that in itself is a recipe for disaster!

      The reasons why many of us on the left have lent our support to Chavismo have little to do with traditional class war and everything to do with resisting corporate power and the relentless onslaught of neoliberalism, which we see as having hijacked much of our political discourse. With our own democracy heading towards some form of plutocracy (the US, alas, being already there), the Venezuelan experience has considerable resonance. The moral victory of Hugo Chavez in bringing the disenfranchised poor majority into political engagement and the extreme (and racist) hostility with which this was met from the incumbent white oligarchy, who at that time still dominated the private media, coloured our sympathy. Then came the shameful coup in 2002 – well before all the charges of authoritarianism could be seriously levelled. Leopoldo Lopez (if accounts are correct) was a participant. Nobody should be subjected to the outrageous treatment Sam McElroy describes. But I have to wonder how things might have played out had Chavez’ initial electoral mandate been respected…

    • A stunningly stark, visual counter from VICE NEWS (albeit shot a year ago, before inflation hit the high sixties) to Herman’s mind-numbingly fantastical Chavista propaganda pamphlet posted above:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwQcVx9-bpw

      Let me also set you straight on Gabriela Montero’s biographical details, Herman, as your research has let you down woefully:

      Lie No.1: She was NOT born into privilege at all. On the contrary.
      Lie No.2: She NEVER studied in any Venezuelan academy, either, let alone an “elite one”. The facts: At eight years old, and because she was a child prodigy who had been giving concerts since she was 5, she received a scholarship from the Venezuelan government at the time to study privately in the US. That scholarship was terminated when she was 14, as they deemed her old enough to earn her own way! She lived under the most difficult and destabilizing of hand-to-mouth circumstances in Miami throughout a decade of her childhood, and only ended up studying in London, after giving up the piano at 18, because Professor Hamish Milne heard an audio cassette of her playing and insisted that the Royal Academy of Music offer her a full scholarship. She has worked her hands to the bone for everything she has achieved, and turned down large and very convenient financial inducements to represent your woefully inept “Bolivarian Revolution” on the concert stage. Unlike so many.

      You are factually correct about her pigmentation: her skin is white, though not after a few days in the sun. Unfortunately, she works so hard trying to save your failed state from further catastrophe that lying in the sun is a luxury she can not afford these days. So white she remains. But no traitor.

  • Mr. Osborne,

    Thanks for clarify that you think all “chavistas” are idiots who have mismanaged the economy and much else”. After your first message just before this one, I was truly believing on you unconditional support. There is a huge difference between rate of murders caused by robbery and murder, and by political actions. Cuba is the only Latin America country that government has justified the imprisonment and murder of independent journalists on charges that they were acting against the State, for one example among many ones. In Brazil, Chile, Mexico among other the government has many issues, but they aren’t killing people in this way.

    In the other hand, I’m sure you’re going to attack Dudamel if perhaps he turned to be BPO MD (Or any other, specially a male german). Are you sure McElroy is the one here promoting a political viewpoint?

  • Compared to most discussions of Venezuelan politics, this has actually been quite an interesting thread. One issue that has been left a little on the sidelines, though, is that of whether Dudamel should or should not get involved, which is the question that Norman originally asked.

    Personally, I’m relatively happy with V. Lind’s line that an artist doesn’t necessarily have a duty to speak out. But Dudamel is not simply an artist. He is the international figurehead of a social program that claims to have miraculous effects on social problems and is given vast amounts of money on the basis of those (unverified) claims. He also states in every interview about El Sistema that the program is forging citizens, not musicians. He therefore frames his own activity in social and political terms (since citizenship is inescapably political). It is therefore absolutely right that Norman, Gabriela Montero, and many other Venezuelans (this issue has been commented on extensively on social media) should ask: “how long before he speaks out?”

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