Nicolas Maduro and Richard Branson in cross-border concert-off

Photo of Nicolas Maduro and Richard Branson in cross-border concert-off
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A Colombian police officer stands guard over a border bridge blocked by Maduro loyalists

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LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelan President to host rally opposite a music festival organised by the Virgin founder

One-Minute Read
Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - 6:03am

In a bizarre musical stand-off, two concerts will take place opposite each other across the border of Venezuela and Columbia this weekend; one in support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the other organised by billionaire Richard Branson.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Branson, who is backing opposition leader Juan Guaido, said he hoped the concert would raise $100m for “much-needed medical help” for crisis-torn Venezuela, which is suffering from hyperinflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine.

According to The Guardian “the plan is to raise donations from viewers watching the concert on a livestream over the internet”, with up to 300,000 people expected to attend in person to see the likes of Spanish-French singer Manu Chao, Mexican band Maná, Spanish singer-songwriter Alejandro Sanz and Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra.

Stepping up the stand-off, Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez also promised to deliver 20,000 boxes of government-subsidised food to the poor in the Colombian border city of Cucuta where the opposition concert is being held, and where tonnes of aid from the United States is now sitting earmarked for struggling Venezuelans.

“The rival bids for aid and concerts to shore up support are part of a tense bid by both Maduro and the opposition to break a monthlong stalemate over power in Venezuela,” says AP.

Maduro has vowed not to let any US aid enter Venezuela, instead announcing on state TV earlier this week that his government would import 300 tonnes of much-needed supplies from Russia.

Yet while he retains the support of Kremlin, China and crucially the Venezualan army, his position remains precarious.

Donald Trump has adopted an increasingly belligerent tone towards the regime and last week Cuba claimed US special forces were readying an infiltration under the pretense of averting a humanitarian disaster.

Seeking to appeal directly to the army, “the opposition has urged the military, which remains loyal to Maduro, to let the aid in”, says The Daily Telegraph, something “analysts say... would seriously undermine Maduro's authority and could lead to his ouster”.

Responding to news Maduro’s government plans to put on a rival concert, Guaido described the move as “desperate”.

“They’re debating whether the aid should come in or not... They don’t know what to do,” he said. “They’re now making up a concert. How many concerts are they going to stage?”

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