Classical musicians feel pain of brutal repression in Venezuela

Miami Symphony Orchestra plays on anniversary of viola player's murder

Armando Cañizales died during a May protest in Caracas.

MIAMI – Two years ago, Armando Cañizales' music was silenced in the streets of Caracas. It was his first time joining a protest against Nicolás Maduro. The18-year-old viola player was with other unarmed classical musicians when they decided to brave the National Guard's violence.

Witnesses said Cañizales and his friends weren't destroying property. They were taking over the street to express their disapproval of Maduro's move to reform the country's 1999 Constitution without a universal vote, which Maduro's opposition denounced as a "coup d'état."

The officers followed orders to clear the streets at the municipality of Baruta, in Caracas' Las Mercedes district, known for its art galleries and shopping. Behind the riot shields, officers armed with teargas grenade guns had scared away grandparents and children.

A Caraota Digital video shows Cañizales, who was wearing a helmet, throwing rocks. He was standing behind others who were holding shields made out of wood. They had stopped throwing rocks when he walked forward and stood in front of the crowd of protesters alone.

To show that he was an unarmed, he raised his arms and exposed his chest and hands while standing near the intersection of Rio de Janeiro Avenue and Jalisco Street. Seconds later, he dropped to the ground. Musician William Hernández, 19, saw him fall.

Venezuelan journalist Luis Olavarrieta said the only attackers were in front of him. Both saw other protesters pick up Cañizales and carry him away from the officers. Olavarrieta filmed when volunteers rushed him to a parked ambulance.

"Armando! No," a man shouted when he saw his face uncovered. Doctors later pronounced him dead May 3, 2017.

On Friday night, Venezuelan conductor Eduardo Marturet and members of the Miami Symphony Orchestra played in his honor at Estefan Kitchen restaurant in Miami's Design District with the help of Miami Mayor Franciz Suarez. 

Cañizales started playing the viola when he was 10. He was a member of the Youth Symphony José Francisco del Castillo and had been accepted to medical school. His mother, Dr. Mónica Carrillo, a pediatrician, and his father, Israel Cañizales, an academic, were proud.

Cañizales had benefited from the musical training of the Simón Bolívar Musical Foundation, better known as "El Sistema."José Antonio Abreu, an economist, politician and conductor, founded it in 1975 and in 2008 said he viewed it as a way to promote "children's sublime right to music." Hugo Chávez praised his efforts, but as oil prices declined Maduro neglected the program. Abreu saw the decline of the classical music scene in Caracas before he died March 24, 2018.  

In this Jan. 1, 2017 file photo, maestro Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. AP FILE

Venezuelan musicians worldwide felt the pain. The program's most famous pupil, Gustavo Dudamel, a conductor and violinist, who is the director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, released a statement in response to Cañizales' murder.

"We must stop ignoring the just cry of the people suffocated by an intolerable crisis," Dudamel said. "I raise my voice against violence. I raise my voice against repression."

Wuilly Arteaga was injured days before he was arrested Thursday in Caracas.

Musicians like Wuilly Arteaga, 23, started to play his violin during protests in Cañizales' honor. Amid the harassment of Maduro's loyalists and lack of job opportunities, Arteaga and other musicians have been forced to play in the streets of cities in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, the United States and Europe. 

A photograph showing Arteaga playing the violin amid tear gas was the cover of The Organization of American States' May 29, 2018 report on possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela. Cañizales' murder was case 47. 

"He was shot with a round metallic projectile that entered at the base of the neck," the report said. 

Venezuelan authorities never identified the shooter who killed Cañizales. Olavarrieta is still covering the brutal repression of the National Guard in Venezuela. The 1999 Constitution that Cañizales died defending allowed Juan Guaidó to step up as interim president Jan. 23, after the opposition demed last year's May 20 re-election of Maduro for a second six-year term illegitimate. 



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