A large movement against the increasing violence in the streets in Caracas has sprung on social media recently. The reason: various famous members of the music industry have been assassinated. Dozens of Venezuelan musicians and artists united with one voice against the violence, but they have been silenced.
Yesterday, the Pepsi Music Awards, a highly anticipated Venezuelan music event, was largely censored by television station Venevision because the musicians spoke against violence and called for peace in the streets of bloody Caracas. All mention of both violence and for peace were censored out of the award show, even though no political statements were made.
The Venezuelan government is doing everything in its power to hide the extreme violence that is occurring in the country, where the numbers of murders are higher than in many countries at war.
Asier Cazalis, the lead singer of Caramelos de Cianuro, among the top bands in Venezuela, has been on the front page of many Venezuelan newspapers for the last week. He has become an accidental symbol of the voices for peace in the violence-plagued country. His manager and longtime friend, Libero Iaizzo, was kidnapped and murdered last week, even though the family paid kidnappers the requested rescue money. It all took less than 3 hours.
Libero, who was a known hard-working member of the Venezuelan music industry, was found shot in the head on the morning of Friday, March 23. There are other odd details to the story that highlight this everyday reality in Venezuela. Among them: four policemen who are currently being investigated for extorting money from Iaizzo´s parents in exchange for returning his empty car, which they found while he was still missing.
Just a couple of weeks prior to this incident, beloved reggae artist One Chot was shot in the head while criminals tried to rob his car. This was less than a year after the Venezuelan government ordered an investigation against him and censured his video RottenTown, in which he denounced the very same violence that sent him to the hospital, where he is still fighting for his life.
After these two latest acts of violence against members of the music industry in Venezuela, hundreds of popular Venezuelan musicians, such as rock singer Nana Cadavieco, have started tweeting about the terrible violence in the streets of Caracas and urging young people to take responsibility and action to stop this non-declared war. Various musicians and activists congregated in the Palos Grande Square the day after Iaizzo was found dead to gather ideas about uniting against the increasing violence in Caracas, where murders occur daily and residents live in constant fear.
Thanks to blogs, a small number of newspapers, and especially social media (#NoMasViolencia), the voices of Venezuelans united in a movement against violence have been able to continue. However, yesterday Venezuelans saw a big attack to their movement of peace when their voices were silenced. The Pepsi Music Awards, a highly anticipated event in which Venezuelans voted for the favorite bands online, took place in Caracas on March 28. Most artists had a chance to speak, and most spoke about the violence in Venezuela and made a call for peace. The recently murdered Libero Iaizzo was part of the production team and creator of the first edition of this Music Award Show. His recent fate in the hands of the Venezuelan violence was hard to ignore during the show.
Although no actual political statements were made, everyone spoke for peace; from internationally famous reggaetonsuper stars Chino y Nacho to teenage sensation Lasso and various local rock bands.
The ceremony was scheduled for broadcast through Venevisón the next day, as it was not allowed a live broadcast. Venevision is a network that is not critical of the government with a large audience; although many Venezuelans were skeptical about the awards being broadcasted, they were excited that so many people would hear such an important message of peace from their favorite stars.
Asier Cazalis, lead singer of Caramelos de Cianuro, which received five awards at the event, spoke at the Music Awards. It is safe to say this was one of the strongest speeches at the event given the band's relationship to Libero Iaizzo, their recently assassinated manager:
Not only was his speech edited, but every single mention of peace from the show was completely taken out. Venevision even digitally removed a henna tattoo that music award's hostess Daniela Kosan was sporting in her back with the words #NoMasViolencia, the Twitter hashtag associated with the movement.
Even the "In Loving Memory" titles that scrolled down at the end of the show magically disappeared from the screen.
Venezuelan celebrities have once again taken to Twitter to express their frustration over the censorship of a call for peace and no more violence in Venezuela. You can see examples of these calls in the Twitter accounts of international celebrities such as Oscar de Leon, Chino y Nacho, and many more. A day after salsa legend Oscar de Leon tweeted the issue, the hashtags #VenevisionCobardes and #PremioPepsiMusic had become leading Twitter Trend Topics in the country.
Through social media channels, Pepsi has released statements explaining they were not aware the show was going to be edited and censored, but thousands of angry Venezuelans have asked the soda company to stop advertising in the Venevision network. The government has continued to pursue attacking the soda company by canceling their sponsorship contract with the Venezuelan national soccer team, La Vinotinto, all in the name of pressuring them against allowing a platform to speak about the sad reality of violence in Venezuela.
In 2009, Caracas was found to be the deadliest city in the world with a total of 7,676 people killed in the metropolitan area. That is about one murder every hour and a half. The numbers have doubled; various organizations such as Observatorio de Violencia, which aim at keeping track at often misreported crime numbers, have estimated that in 2011 over 19,000 violent deaths occurred in the country. In 2011, the United Nations declared Venezuela the country with the highest murder rate in Latin America. It is also estimated that only one out of ten crimes are ever prosecuted and punished. Over 9 million guns are estimated to be in the streets of Venezuela in the hands of criminals; that's a third of Venezuela's population of 28 million. The numbers are staggering.
The international media often focuses in Chavez and his administration, his laws, speeches and colorful character, but fails to address the day to day life of millions of Venezuelans living in fear of being murdered every time they step outside their homes. Please help us spread the word so the government can stop pretending that rampant violence does not exist in Venezuela.
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(Disclosure: Asier Cazalis is the brother of the author.)