BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Classical music maestro Gustavo Dudamel has spoken out against the Venezuelan government he has long performed for, calling on President Nicolas Maduro to listen to protesters who have taken to the streets by the millions against his socialist government.
In an online essay titled "I Raise My Voice," Dudamel urged Maduro to reduce political tensions that have left 37 people dead amid daily, sometimes-violent demonstrations.
"We must stop ignoring the just cry of the people suffocated by an intolerable crisis," he said. "Democracy cannot be built to fit the needs of a particular government or otherwise it would cease to be a democracy."
Dudamel's rebuke followed the death of 17-year-old musician Armando Canizales during a demonstration Wednesday. Canizales was a member of the government-financed El Sistema musical education program that gave rise to Dudamel's career and with whom the 36-year-old conductor continues to tour with even while serving as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's musical director. Dudamel's essay bore Canizales's name in a black, tombstone-like box.
The world-famous El Sistema, created more than four decades ago, is one of the rare institutions to have survived — even thriving — under the past 17 years of socialist rule. The program connects about 400,000 mostly poor Venezuelan children with classical music and its marquee Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, led by Dudamel, was until recently one of hottest touring ensembles in the world.
Venezuelans and fellow classical music performers have blasted Dudamel in the past for being cozy with Maduro, who protesters accuse of undermining the South American country's democracy and blame for an economic collapse that has produced soaring inflation and shortages of food and medicine.
In 2014, during a previous round of deadly anti-government unrest, he conducted a commemorative concert in downtown Caracas blocks away from where a student was killed hours earlier in clashes with security forces. A few days later, he appeared alongside Maduro at the presidential palace overlooking architectural plans for a Frank Gehry-designed concert hall being built in his honor.
But as his homeland has spun further out of control, Dudamel — like many Venezuelan artists and celebrities who were once close to the revolution started by the late Hugo Chavez — has started taking more distance.
His statement Thursday left no doubt that his loyalties had shifted.
"We owe our youth a hopeful world, a country where we can walk freely in dissent, in respect, in tolerance, in dialogue and in which dreams have room to build the Venezuela we all yearn for," he wrote. "It is time to listen to the people: Enough is Enough."