International charity concert “Venezuela Aid Live” kicked off Friday morning on the Colombian border town of Cúcuta, which sits on the Venezuelan border. Sponsored by Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson, as well as Colombian transportation mogul Bruno Ocampo, the humanitarian fundraiser was inspired by Bob Geldof’s Eighties ‘Live Aid’ telethons. Broadcasted today via livestream, 32 artists from all over the world are confirmed to perform through 5pm local time — including Colombian rock star Juanes, Puerto Rican hitmaker Luis Fonsi, Mexican pop star Paulina Rubio and many more.
The event was initiated in response to an ongoing political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, in which hyperinflation and shortages in food and medicine have prompted a mass exodus from the country. Multiple foreign governments, including that of the United States, have recognized Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as interim head of state; meanwhile Nicolás Maduro, the contested socialist president of Venezuela, has denied all need for foreign aid and intervention. With the support of the Venezuelan military, Maduro has blockaded all ports, bridges and borders.
“[Venezuelans] are in pain seeing their country go from being the most successful in South American to one that’s in abject poverty,” Branson told Rolling Stone. “I’m fortunate in that I can pick up the telephone and get through to anyone in the world and get resources… If you’ve got cancer or diabetes, there are no medicines left in Venezuela. The whole idea of the concert is to persuade the soldiers to do what’s right.”
In a Feburary 15th video titled “Venezuela Needs Our Help,” Venezuelan-born actress and vocalist Lele Pons urged fans to contribute $100 million in aid in 60 days: “I’m not normally a political person,” Pons told Rolling Stone, “but this is a humanitarian problem. Hopefully it will eventually get better. What would help would be for the president to leave. He’s a dictator.”
On the contrary, Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters publically criticized the motives of Aid Live organizers on Wednesday, citing concerns over politicizing humanitarian aid. “The Red Cross and the U.N., unequivocally agree, don’t politicize aid,” he said in a video on Twitter.
The concert is taking place at the entrance of the Simón Bolívar International Bridge — rechristened by Colombian officials as the “Unity Bridge” — that connects the country with Venezuela. On the other end of the bridge, however, the Maduro administration has pledged a weekend-long counter-festival dubbed “Hands Off Venezuela.” The lineup has yet to be confirmed.
“I’m not sure they’re going to find many artists,” Branson remarked on the dueling show. “All the big South Americans are playing on our side of the bridge.”
According to a statement published on the official Aid Live website, the three basic goals of the event are “to create awareness of the current situation, to reopen the Venezuelan borders in order to get the humanitarian aid in, and to obtain enough funds to design and carry out a sustainable social investment that will benefit Venezuela and help bring it and its people back.” Funds will be directed towards Colombian NGO Fundación Solidaridad por Colombia, and audited by British firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. For more information visit VenezuelaAidLive.com.
Venezuela Aid Live Lineup
José Luis Rodríguez
Juan Luis Guerra
Mau y Ricky