The Soundtrack to Venezuela’s Student Protests

Interview

Friday, February 28, 2014

The student protests in Venezuela have turned violent in recent weeks. According to reports from inside the country, over a dozen protesters have died in clashes with the government and paramilitary groups. Amidst the turmoil, the music of the Venezuelan rock band La Vida Boheme has surged in popularity, becoming the unofficial soundtrack to the student’s cause.

The band’s Grammy Award-winning album Será came out just weeks after the death of former president Hugo Chávez. Its songs search for hope in a country plagued with soaring murder rates, crippling inflation, and scarcity of essential goods — conditions exacerbated by the current clashes. “It was in all of our heads, being young people here in the country,” lead singer and songwriter Henry D’Arthenay tells Kurt Andersen, from his home in Caracas.

D’Arthenay says the protests are the outcome of a long-festering fear and distrust of the government of Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. “Even if you’re not involved politically, your life is in jeopardy,” he tells Kurt. “I’ve been politically active since I started writing music because I always thought it was a responsibility.” Young Venezuelans have been sharing La Vida Boheme’s lyrics on social media, especially the anthemic “Aún” (“Still”): 

Ya cansadas mis piernas de tanto caminar
He dejado la sierra para no volver más
Las rodillas me tiemblan pero no puedo parar
Quiero que mis hijos tengan lo que a mí me quisieron quitar

Now my legs are tired from walking
I have left the mountains to never return again
My knees are trembling but I cannot stop
I want my children to have what they took from me

Like many in Caracas, D’Arthenay is staying in his house as much as possible because of the violence and chaos in the streets. He has been voicing his opposition to the government’s violence against protesters on Twitter, and trying to find a reason for hope. “I do believe that this will come to a positive, non-violent outcome,” he tells Kurt. “We have to build a country where each and everyone has a chance to realize themselves as human beings.” 

 

Video: La Vida Boheme, "Aún"

 

Video: La Vida Boheme, "Cementerio del Este // Cementerio del Sur"

 

    Music Playlist
  1. Aún
    Artist: La Vida Boheme
    Album: Sera
    Label: Nacional Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Cementerio Del Este
    Artist: La Vida Boheme
    Album: Sera
    Label: Nacional Records
    Purchase: Amazon

Guests:

Henry D’Arthenay

Produced by:

Sean Rameswaram

Comments [6]

stanchaz from Brooklandia

“We have to build a country where each and everyone has a chance to realize themselves as human beings.”
Hey, we could use some of that right here!

Mar. 03 2014 08:23 AM
Maude from New York

US reporting about the politics of just about any country in the world has always been thoroughly biased and lacking in historical context. If the country has a even mildly socialist government all most Americans can do is see red. It's rare that any report will include information about U.S. funding of the opposition.

What bothers me as much though is the fact that we have violent suppression of free speech here too and Kurt Anderson (as far as I know) has never done a program about that. During the last decade when U.S. citizens peacefully protested the GOP or Democratic conventions, the G10 or Wall Street criminality a lot of them were arrested, beaten up, imprisoned and generally treated to a police state kind of approach. Except for Occupy Wall Street none of that got much coverage in the mainstream media.

Mar. 01 2014 04:30 PM
Goyo from SW

Carlos, I appreciate your respectful and non-confrontational tone, it makes your perspective more credible than Ddsd's personal attack. I don't live in your country and I assume you are there now. I regret the troubles you and your compatriotas are going through. I am not anti-American, I am an American for over 10 generation in SW USA. I am for human rights and for the freedom of all peoples from oppression. I do not pretend to know what Venezuelans are going through at this time. In my previous comment I made the point asking Mr. Anderson to balance his question to Mr. D'Arthenay and include the threats to Venezuelan democracy from the opposition as well. There is the history of the corporatist coup in 2002, and a constant influx of foreign monies supporting the opposition. South America has a history of democratically elected governments being destabilized by the CIA and multinational companies with support of the right-wing politicians and oligarchs.

You say I'm biased but so are you, is there anyone who is not biased from their experiences and from observation of historical facts? I am against the corporatist legacy of the type of free-market capitalism that is most often forced upon countries in the southern hemisphere with the covert support of the CIA and the overt shock treatment from IMF-World Bank economists. Your neighbor, Columbia, one the largest recipients of U.S. military support in the world, has the dubious distinction of leading the world in forced disappearances at 50,000 and internally displaced peoples at over 5 million...it is a prime example of the corporitist, right-wing transfer of wealth and oppression of the poor.

I understand that there were inconsistencies and problems with the last election, however, since I don't have first hand experience living there, I must rely on impartial 3rd party organizations like the Carter Center's observation of the Maduro-Capriles election. From their report, there are recommendations but no clear evidence that the elections were stolen.
https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/news/peace_publications/election_reports/venezuela-pre-election-rpt-2013.pdf

Also, I can only rely on the UN's reports on the conditions in countries I don't have first hand experience. I looked at the UN's Human Development Index, which measures several key indicators of the health of a country's citizenry (e.g., life expectancy, income, education, equality), we see that Venezuela has actually experienced a steady growth in such human development indicators since Chavez took office with a total Human Rights Index score of .662 in 2000, and rising to .748 in 2012. See, Table 2 at p. 149 of the UN Report
http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/14/hdr2013_en_complete.pdf

I hope the outcome is non-violent and I respect that you are not content with the current government.

Feb. 28 2014 07:40 PM
Carlos Duarte

Goyo from Southwest I don't know you so i can't make an assessment about the kind of person you are, but i can't tell that you are speaking from a very biased Anti-american point of view.

I am a Venezuelan and I can tell you that the one assertion blatantly make without any knowledge (in the best of cases) is that the government of Venezuela has been Democratically elected.

That is not true because while there was an election in Venezuela In April of 2013, this was not a fair one. you would need to have a little bit more knowledge about the Venezuelan Constitution to understand that the election was held in violation of several articles in the constitution, the government made gross abuse of taxpayers funds during the campaign, also the government limited the presence on TV and other media outlets to under 2 minutes a day for the opposition candidate to convey his message while making an obscene use of the airways via the all too common "National TV Chains" in which the President or the ministry of communications takes over the signal of all the TV and Radio Stations to transmit campaign messages which is illegal in Venezuela but the government party doesn't care.

So I respect your point of view about the meddling of the United States and other countries in the economic policies of Latin America, but don't come here and defend a Pseudo Democratic government that has been in power for 15 years and has only demonstrated an complete incompetence to resolve the problems of the Venezuelan people while managed to manipulate very well the democratic system and turned into a straight jacket for those who don't agree with the overall performance and policies of the Bolivarian government.

Feb. 28 2014 04:12 PM
Ddsd from Caracas

Obviously, you dont know sh*t, Goyo from southwest. Go play some xbox on your perfectly suited house. Or come to Venezuela and live here for a while, if you survive.

Feb. 28 2014 03:01 PM
Goyo from Southwest

This story is a welcome addition to the debate on the economic and social unrest in his country from the perspective of a Venezuelan musician-artist. I found D'Arthenay's response very enlightening - contrary to Kurt Anderson's typical US-American viewpoint and framing - to the question of how he felt about people's, like actor Sean Penn, support for the Chavez-Maduro leadership. He respected the actor's perspective in his desire for the ideals of a democratic and progressive change in what has been an otherwise volatile South America trying to recover from the introduction of the corportist "shock therapy" and Friedmanesque voodoo economics for 40 years- since the 1970's.

When asking his question, I do wish Anderson would do a little more research to see the past CIA and Chicago Boys (from the Friedman controlled U. of Chicago Economic School) meddling in the soveriegn governments and covert operations to convert most of Latin America into free-market capitalist neoliberal countries - Venezuela included. If he had, maybe he would have mentioned the constant undermining of Venezuelan democracy and economy by outside and inside pro-corportist ideologues.

Now, new democratic governments, like Chavez'-Maduro's - imperfect, but freely elected - are struggling to lift the poor and rebuild the middle class; while undoing the damage of the Friedman-style, free-market economic "policies". These policies are directly responsible for a vast transfer of wealth to a small minority of the rich, and the destruction of the middle class and unions. (Friedman's 3 rules: The privatization of national enterprises, deregulation of corporations, and cuts in social programs along with the high debts from IMF and World Bank loans only given if the 3 policies were implemented).

Feb. 28 2014 12:12 PM

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