Scandal: Vatican welcomes Venezuela’s musical stooges

El Sistema’s Simon Bolivar Orchestra, controlled by the Maduro regime in Venezuela, will play today at the Vatican in a concert for “Religions and Sustainable Development (SDGs): listening to the cry of the earth and of the poor”.

‘Music and art are an extraordinary vehicle for the edification of the spirit and the integral development of the person,’ explains the organising Cardinal.

A reader’s response:

Dear Sir: 
I read your note in which you mention the concert by the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, calling them “stooges controlled by the regime.” 
There are some comments I would like to make based on your “appreciation” of such event; which I do as a Venezuelan, living under the current hell of the CH regime, but also with emotional ties to El Sistema, having a daughter in it for many years.
First, you well know that the Sistema was NOT founded by the current regime, having celebrated this month 44 years of its foundation by Maestro Abreu. Obviously 44 years of this Hell would mean Venezuela would have sunk further than what it is already in. 
Second, the fact that the Chavistas (CH) designate some of their officials in the Board of DIrectors of El Sistema, does not mean they are involved, control, or make anyone there, less of all the musicians, as stooges or puppets of the current government. El Sistema is comprised by thousands of musicians, most of which come from impoverished households, that have grown as musicians and as persons thanks to the discipline and ethos of their musical and personal formation. Indeed, many of those who have fled the country due to our political and humanitarian crisis are playing in orchestras everywhere in the world. 
Third, locally, when you attend rehearsals or concerts, politics are left out, and you seldom (really rarely) see any of these characters (I mean the appointed CH officials in the Board), present in any event. 
Fourth, in the really rare instances they have tried to meddle in (supposedly in a recent case), the concert was suspended by its conductor; unwilling to become a flagship for any political manifestation. Indeed political discourses inside are rare, if any. This is an educational and social program, and politics should not have a place in it, from either side of the spectrum, even if some try to use it as such. 
Regardless of these facts, in the past, playing in the Vatican by a Venezuelan orchestra would have been great news for all. Now, all is silence; first because it is not the time with all that is going on, both from a political viewpoint and in the milddle of this severe economic and humanitarian crisis. Second, because it is not “the” place to go, thanks to the wishy-washy position of the current Pope in our crisis, continuing to press for useless negotiations (and notwithstanding their own ethical battle inside the Church).  Nonetheless, I do have to say that the Venezuelan Church (not the Pope) has kept a very critical position against human rights violations, unfair imprisonment, lack of liberty and many other situations denounced by many, including trustworthy NGOs, about the conditions here. 
Finally, I know some of these musicians in the SImón Bolívar orchestra, included the conductor; which are all professionals, hardworking individuals, who suffer the same difficulties Venezuelans have. Most of them are teachers of hundreds of children that are part of El Sistema.. 
None of them, including my own daughter, deserve your derogatory label.  El Sistema has to continue its work and legacy, with its up and downs, regardless of who is in power. 
Sincerely, 
Venezuelan and proud mother of a member of El Sistema

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  • Much better to have an orchestra funded by a non-democratically-elected junta put in place by Uncle Sam, of course? Only it’s doubtful that Guaido will find a single cent to fund culture.

    • So you justify bad behavior by pointing out bad behavior? A juvenile debate tactic unfortunately too often used but too seldom dismissed.

      • How is life under your bridge? You’re quick to wheel-out the Trump-funded talking points, but slow to provide any alternative viewpoint, I see. Just trash-talk.

        So do tell us, if you want to retain any vestigial credibility whatsoever – in what way is it ‘democratic’ for another nation (the USA) to declare a rival government, led by someone who doesn’t even live in Venezuela – without any elections whatsoever??

        I doubt you will bother to answer – your sort never do. But please go ahead and post some more empty trash by way of a reply.

  • They are children, Norman. Please. Not stooges. Children.

    And no, they are not controlled by Maduro any more than any professional symphony orchestra is controlled by their CEO.

    CEOs raise money and provide for the organizations’ needs. The output is directed by the artistic direction, conductor, musicians’ committees and so on. Same with Maduro and El sistema. An enormous benefit to this project is that the sistema holds a cabinet position next to health, education, military and others, and responds directly to the Presidency, yes, which does not mean Maduro controls what goes on beyond that level. It should be notes that Maduro’s son is a flute student in the project, defending its independence and known modus operandi.

    While it is appropriate to comment and castigate Maduro for his economic and political actions and consequences, it is beneath human civility to demean children by calling them stooges, and to work against such a project which has streamlined the lives of 600.000 of them to a level kids of other countries would only dream of. For that, such statements against these children and their dedicated masters reeks of discrimination and imperialism. Oh, how dare this venezu-whats come up with a better system and success story for tackling inequality through music and reaching such astonishing results than England, or the US, or Europe, or anywhere on the planet for that matter.

    Hands off our latinamerica children, please! Let them live and love and be productive without being called names.

    • Well said Alex. El Sistema is a wonderful programme that rescues children from poverty and gives them hope. I am afraid Mr. Lebrecht has again chosen the wrong target for his prejudice.

    • “They are children, Norman. Please. Not stooges. Children.”
      “Hands off our latinamerica children, please! Let them live and love and be productive without being called names.”
      Absolutely. 100% agreed.
      It is not the musicians or the music to be blamed for Maduro and his criminal behaviors.
      Do we blame the United States Marine Band for Trump’s behaviors?

    • Alex, your comments are utterly, blatantly untruthful.

      The OSSB is an orchestra of young, morally autonomous adults in their twenties and thirties. They are NOT children.

      EVERYONE knows – and I have a career El Sistema musician in his late fifties standing right next to me, beating his head against the wall in indignation at your comments – that the orchestra is answerable directly to the criminal regime, and that there is no firewall whatsoever between Maduro, the board of directors, and strategic planning. Maduro’s son is one of them!

      In fact, the musicians have been forced for years to vote for Chavismo, to march for Chavismo, and even to record music for Chavismo. They tell us every day! And they are fed up of it! They just don’t dare say it publicly, not even when they’re out of the country, so wide are the tentacles of mafia-like influence.

      For the benefit of readers here who may wish to deal in fact, not myth, the board of El Sistema directors today contains such regime officials as Delcy Rodriguez herself.

      She is the former propaganda minister under Chavez, and the foreign minister under Maduro whose department was responsible (amongst a litany of other alleged trans-national crimes) for offering diplomatic passports to the drug-dealing nephews of the First Lady (now serving 18 years for importing 800 kgs of cocaine to the US in a plane originating from the Presidential hangar in Caracas). You may remember her – she presented the orchestra to the UN Security Council as “models of the Bolivarian Revolution”, before taking over the Constituent Assembly, the legislative body that usurped the National Assembly overnight in 2017, resulting in the death of 158 citizens during ensuing protests – including two musicians, one shot in the neck at point blank range. She is the same psychopath who went on television a few weeks ago to tell the world there is no medical crisis in Venezuela. In another glorious moment, she told the world last week that the aid sent by the international community is full of poisons and carcinogens!

      Maduro’s son (“Nicolasito”, they all call him – also on the board of directors) is described by my Venezuelan colleague next to me in words so unprintable that I won’t even bother to address your reference to him. He is the dictator’s son! His father is responsible for the destruction of Venezuela! What else needs to be said? He plays the flute, therefore….what? You think he goes there with his objective critical faculties fully functioning?

      And the point of this post’s objection is not that they are just any old musicians playing for the Pope, but that these adult Venezuelan musicians are being sent out – yet again – as laundry machines for a criminal and illegitimate regime, most likely with the hope of eliciting a momentum-busting call for “dialogue and peace” from his holiness. They are participating in a symposium about sustainability and poverty! Don’t you see the vile absurdity of that dissonance?

      Let me spell it out: a group of musicians owed by the regime that has impoverished a nation to the point of widespread death, starvation and exile has been flown (who paid?) to the Vatican to partake in an event about poverty! Many of them will have family members and/or friends eating from garbage cans, searching for basic medicines, looking desperately for ways to leave the country because of conditions created by the very people sending them to Rome. I KNOW THIS, because we talk to them every day and send them those very medicines and food packages and plane tickets out of there! One of them lived with us for four months!

      You must, once and for all, separate two ideas, Alex:

      – that music (and many other forms of creative self-expression) should be an educational right for all kids growing up anywhere in the world (I totally, wholeheartedly agree), and

      – that this right (in the case of dictatorships) confers upon the grateful, subjugated, indebted recipient a limitless duty to prostitute his or her soul through propaganda – anywhere around the globe – in exchange for unlimited flows of state cash while the nation starves under conditions of unprecedented poverty.

      What is “beneath human civility”, Alex, is the insistence that these musicians be offered the status of a privileged class within a collapsed state, funded limitlessly by the architects of the disaster they see all around them, and immunised against taking moral, adult decisions for the greater good of the society in which they live.

      You say “let them live and love and be productive…”. Thousands of them can barely eat! What tree-hugging garbage is this? I’m sorry. There’s one playing cello in the Madrid subway for 20 euros a day weighing two-thirds of his normal body mass! I know, because we’re trying to find him a job! And we just sent money to him. There’s another trying to find cancer medication. I know, because… I’m not going further into it. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it…. Hopefully the readers here will, to the extent that they are not blinded by spectacles with thick, red lenses.

      Another day we can talk about your other unsupported, mythical assertion that music has solved inequality issues in Venezuela, because I see it creating inequality and obscene levels of arrogance and entitlement by bestowing inordinate privilege on a very select few, while the vast majority languish in utter human misery.

      • Sam: Now I’m confused. Are we talking about the El Sistema orchestra made of poor children that launched Dudamel’s career or about the Simon Bolivar Orchestra?

        • This blog post, as I see it, is specifically about the SBO playing at a symposium on poverty at the Vatican, and the inherent moral dissonance of that scenario, given the poverty inflicted upon Venezuela by the regime officials now in control of this orchestra’s overseas missions.

      • A general footnote to my comment above to Alex…

        While armchair leftists fire off emotive tropes online about “imperialism” and build anti-foreign-aid sentiment based purely on political ideology and fallacies of relevance, those of us trying to get that aid to the dying have to deal with more pressing realities.

        Power has gone out all over Caracas. The entire city. For the past 15 hours.

        That means that one of the cancer sufferers we (and many others) are trying to help, an El Sistema musician if that matters, is at risk of losing her stock of Herceptin (a chemo treatment) to spoiling. She has fundraised for months for this $40,000 treatment (unavailable in Venezuela and far beyond the reach of her $6 monthly salary), and has just begun her course of treatment.

        Call outside assistance by whatever name you like, if you must waste your time in such first-world extravagances, but I call the wilful prevention of outside assistance to the dying and starving and sick a crime against humanity, and I condemn anyone who condones it, including the psychopathic leader of the usurper Constituent Assembly, and El Sistema director, Delcy Rodriguez.

  • Interesting how opinion turns. Not so long ago Venezuela was being hailed as a ‘great socialist experiment’ by certain leading members of a certain political party. And the kids’ orchestra was being described as ‘irresistible’

    • Yeah, you’d have to be pretty cynical about the lionizing one moment and the demonizing the next. Smarter people always knew this regime was going to end badly; but democracy doesn’t function on ‘smart’. Mostly feelings these days.

      • Huh? The regime in that country isn’t really “democratic”. The president abolished the legislative when the opposition gained a majority in the elections. [Don’t give Trump and his followers ideas…]

    • Those leading members of that party have not, by any account, changed their minds. They’ve just gone a little quiet on the subject.

  • If only this were even a noteworthy scandal at the Vatican.

    If today were judgement day, and the Vatican had to answer for its top 1,000,000 sins (let’s restrict it to the last 100 years), one still would have to wait a long time to get to this one.

    That said, I am surprised that Venezuela still has enough oil to fly 100 people to Europe.

  • There are a few misconceptions flying about. The Simon Bolivar Orchestra is not, these days, made up of “children” — they are mostly musicians in their mid- to late 20s.

    The students of El Sistema, on the other hand, are children, and there are thousands of them, many of whom have had their lives substantially bettered in many ways, from escape from gang culture to learning all the things that music brings to lives. Rumours that El Sistema is a boot camp rather than a nurturing environment continue to circulate. If the former, it sounds like appropriate preparation for life in professional orchestras, judging by recent conversations on these pages about conductors and their roles.

    El Sistema was not founded by government, though it has been funded by it — latterly controversially, at a time when Venezuela cannot feed its people or keep their homes heated and lit. It IS used as a propaganda tool. But the players are not “stooges.” They are at once lucky and unlucky — they are probably among the best-paid and best-fed people in Venezuela. (Which may not be very great). And they are caught in the crossfire of a brutal political conflict.

    But THEIR mission is sincere, and the comments of the “organising Cardinal” are perfectly fine. What is needed is for presenters of this Orchestra to look behind the stage a little, and not to bask in some sort of serene notion that while an orchestra can play all is well with the world. Which is not to say they should stop. Recent history is all too full of stories of brave musicians who have played to save their lives or to save their history and spirit. These ones should not be condemned for doing what they were trained and set up to do, which now may be all they have to live for in a bleak background. And they should certainly not be sneered at.

  • Wow, when you thought at least musical news would be about, you know, music you get preached to by privileged 1st world elitists shilling for yet another brutal imperial “regime change” to “protect” those poor brown people from themselves and put them in their place (aka take away their voice and dignity). Disgusting. Unsubscribed.

  • One has merely to look at the history of the Chavista’s relationship to Israel to understand Norman’s breathtaking “stooges” remark.

  • So many myths and illusions and downright falsehoods circulating here. Sam understands how El Sistema really works, because he’s heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. The “El Sistema mother” above, if she really exists, gets it nearly as wrong as everyone else.

    Three examples out of many possible ones:

    1. In 2015, El Nacional newspaper reported that music school directors were ordered by top figures in El Sistema to take their employees to vote for the government in the national elections.

    2. El Sistema participated prominently in a government propaganda video in 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=1QcdorsT6fk.

    3. There is no good evidence that El Sistema has ever tackled inequality or poverty. The largest and most recent study suggested that only a small minority of students were actually poor, and highlighted “the challenges of targeting interventions towards vulnerable groups of children in the context of a voluntary social program.” See https://geoffbakermusic.wordpress.com/el-sistema-older-posts/idb-study-sheds-doubt-on-el-sistemas-claims-of-social-inclusion-and-transformation-short-version/.

    • Oh dear, Geoff! Kids who got their music tuition, costs, and instruments all bought by the government… appeared in a video (!) which promoted the agenda of their benefactor?

      “Would passenger Geoff Baker please urgently go to the Departure Gate… where his flight back to Planet Earth is due to leave imminently.”

      • It seems you didn’t read the “Sistema mother” above, who wrote:

        “Second, the fact that the Chavistas (CH) designate some of their officials in the Board of DIrectors of El Sistema, does not mean they are involved, control, or make anyone there, less of all the musicians, as stooges or puppets of the current government.”

        “Fourth, in the really rare instances they have tried to meddle in (supposedly in a recent case), the concert was suspended by its conductor; unwilling to become a flagship for any political manifestation. Indeed political discourses inside are rare, if any.”

        Would passenger Viola da Bracchio please at least read the original post, even if s/he doesn’t know anything about the topic at hand.

        • [[ It seems you didn’t read the “Sistema mother” above ]]

          No, I read your post – and replied to the flaws in it. You named three specious ‘crimes’ of the Maduro regime – I merely highlighted the most risible of the three.

          “stooges or puppets”

          Is that really what passes for scholarship in Englefield Green these days? Erik Levi would have sent vacuous name-calling and subjective judgements back for a rewrite, in my day. But then – I went into the classical music business, where we’re answerable to audiences – rather than to whichever USA-based Trust Fund is sponsoring your ‘researches’.

          If you think a sponsor (whether governmental or corporate) would cough up millions for orchestral instruments, and NOT have a video showing the results by way of return, then thank HEAVENS the profession has been saved from people like you. Please stay in your ivory tower atop Egham Hill. You fulfil no useful function whatsoever.

  • Children in venezula ard dying because of no medicine or Food! So let’s not have this music b****** about helping under privileged kids play music ! Maduro is man only interested in himself ! Something he has in common with you North American’s boss in the WH!

  • Dictatorships are held by their accomplices, making silence makes you an accomplice and washing the face of the dictatorship makes you directly responsible.

    I was part of the system for 6 years and of course in recent years the system is one more arm of Chavismo, which has been used to sell the idea of ​​socialism and social inclusion to the world.

    Repeatedly we received letters where they demanded us to participate in political events, they asked us not to speak badly of chavismo in social networks, and to be part of their political events, I remember in an election to receive a call for coordination if I had already voted and that I did not I was going to make a mistake.

    No one forgets that February 12th while Dudamel was directing a concert as if everything was fine, the army killed the students in the street.

    The biggest example is in the postmortem “homage” to Abreu where it was clearly used to make propaganda to the usurper.

    look at this video ” Record mundial en el poliedro: Gran concierto con 10.701 músicos en homenaje al Maestro Abreu”
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hScnhfJScxM
    minute 1:23:00
    A member of the “Sistema” say: thank you to ” El comandante Chávez”

    The same musicians who play and wash the face of the dictatorship return to their homes and find nothing to eat.
    Thousands of children have retired from the orchestras for not having food, clothes to go to classes, thousands of young people have left the orchestras to work anything in other countries, to play in the streets, and YOU helping to save the dictatorship.

    Shame!

    • [[ they demanded us to participate in political events, they asked us not to speak badly of chavismo in social networks,]]

      So you let them buy thousands of dollars-worth of musical instruments for you…. and buy/hire the orchestral parts (which can be big money!) for concerts… and give you free training and coaching….

      … and in return they wanted you to play for a political event for them?

      You need to book a seat on the plane to Planet Earth that I highlighted in an earlier message.

  • I will associate my comments with the gentleman who took exception with your smear of El Sistema. I am a “rich” American who cannot afford music lessons for my children. Its too expensive at $125/hour for private violin lessons. Sadly, we have no El Sistema where I live. I have nothing but admiration with the administrators of El Sistema that they keep kids playing music in spite the brutal US imposed (medieval) economic siege intended to starve the people of Venezuela into submission. Sad that Norman Lebrecht supports interference and intervention in Venezuela. He has put pressure through editorial for Dudamel to become a traitor to his country, and has succeeded. Sad.

  • Dictatorships are held by their accomplices, making silence makes you an accomplice and washing the face of the dictatorship makes you directly responsible.

    I was part of the system for 6 years and of course in recent years the system is one more arm of Chavismo, which has been used to sell the idea of ​​socialism and social inclusion to the world.

    Repeatedly we received letters where they demanded us to participate in political events, they asked us not to speak badly of chavismo in social networks, and to be part of their political events, I remember in an election to receive a call for coordination if I had already voted and that I did not I was going to make a mistake.

    No one forgets that February 12th while Dudamel was directing a concert as if everything was fine, the army killed the students in the street.

    The biggest example is in the postmortem “homage” to Abreu where it was clearly used to make propaganda to the usurper.

    look at this video ” Record mundial en el poliedro: Gran concierto con 10.701 músicos en homenaje al Maestro Abreu”
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hScnhfJScxM
    minute 1:23:00
    A member of the “Sistema” say: thank you to ” El comandante Chávez”

    The same musicians who play and wash the face of the dictatorship return to their homes and find nothing to eat.
    Thousands of children have retired from the orchestras for not having food, clothes to go to classes, thousands of young people have left the orchestras to work anything in other countries, to play in the streets, and YOU helping to save the dictatorship.

    Shame!

  • Regarding the previous comment, no one is calling the third chair oboist in the orchestra a “government stooge”, but you have a socialist dictator, guilty of, as you note, human rights violations, political imprisonments, murdering and starving his own citizens, and “…the fact that the Chavistas (CH) [the dictator’s political party] designate some of their officials in the Board of DIrectors of El Sistema [this fact means they control the orchestra—that it is a socialist state-controlled orchestra now, since designating who is on the board of directors means they have authority over the orchestra], does not mean they are involved, control, or make anyone there, less of all the musicians, as stooges or puppets of the current government. [what happens if a musician or board member speaks out publicly against the regime? A stooge or puppet is someone who keeps quite for fear of retribution while performing a state controlled function, like a state controlled orchestra] El Sistema is comprised by thousands of musicians, most of which come from impoverished households…” who is funding a trip to Vatican City for thousands of musicians from a starving country in chaos to put on a happy face for the world to see? Remember the North Korean olympics team? In my opinion, the real stooges here are every cleric in Rome who doesn’t protest this disgusting bit of socialist propaganda. Pray to our Lady of Sorrows and St Michael and do penance for the restoration of Holy Mother Church to holiness. Satan has infiltrated the highest ranks.

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