KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Tear Gas Doesn't Stop Venezuelan Protester From Playing The Violin

May 12, 2017
Originally published on May 12, 2017 9:05 am

Protests have been steadily building in Caracas, Venezuela — the capital of the once-prosperous, oil-rich nation that's now in economic and political turmoil. Earlier this week, amid the ongoing chaos, a young man named Wuilly Arteaga started playing his violin.

A video filmed during the protest shows Arteaga, 23, standing in the street as smoke billows in every direction. The eerie notes from the violin can be heard as tear-gas canisters explode around him. At one point, he says, he couldn't breathe. A group of nearby protesters made a barrier between him and the police with homemade cardboard shields.

"I was playing the national anthem and the protesters starting protecting me," Arteaga says in Spanish. "My music was like a gift to them. Like the sound of hope."

Arteaga, who taught himself how to play violin from videos on the internet, was playing "Gloria Al Bravo Pueblo" ("Glory To The Brave People"), the national anthem of Venezuela.

This week of demonstrations isn't the first and will likely not be the last. Over the last month, Venezuelans all over the country have been taking to the streets to protest their government and the quickly declining situation in their country. At least 39 people have died in the clashes, and it's estimated hundreds have been injured.

"Things here are sad," Arteaga says. "Venezuela is suffering right now with so much death. But rather than being angry with the government or with any one person, I always try to bring a message of peace."

Arteaga says this is not the first time he's used music as a form of protest. But after this video made the rounds online, he's started getting threatening messages and calls. This type of attention isn't ideal for Arteaga, who now says he has to be extra careful. But he believes his music will help bring Venezuelans together.

"There is no better time than now to be playing my music in the streets," Arteaga says. "This is the place we need it most, where we need music to have hope."

"Venezuela," he adds, "is worth fighting for."

Radio producer Camilo Garzón contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A video from Caracas, Venezuela, has been making the rounds online. It shows a young man, a bandana tied around his face, playing violin while tear gas canisters explode all around him.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

WUILLY ARTEAGA: (Playing violin).

MARTIN: People in Venezuela have been protesting their government for months. But Wuilly Arteaga cut such an unusual picture on the streets that the video went viral globally. In the clip, you can see some other protesters protecting him with their homemade cardboard shields as smoke billows around them.

ARTEAGA: (Through interpreter) I was playing the national anthem, and the protesters started protecting me. My music was like a gift for them, like the sound of hope.

MARTIN: The 23-year-old, self-taught musician was playing Venezuela's national anthem, which translates roughly as "Glory To The Brave People." At least 39 people have died and several hundred have been injured in the clashes.

ARTEAGA: (Through interpreter) Look, things here are sad. Venezuela is suffering right now with so much death. But rather than be angry with the government or with any one person, I always try to bring a message of peace.

MARTIN: Arteaga says he's gotten some backlash for using music as protest. He's gotten threatening messages and calls, but he thinks his music will help bring Venezuelans together.

ARTEAGA: (Through interpreter) There's no better time than now to be playing my music in the streets. This is where we need it the most, where we need music to have hope.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ARTEAGA: (Playing violin).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.