Music Notes: Sir Richard’s Live Aid

Today, it is an understatement to say that humanitarian aid is a malleable concept. One of its most controversial manifestations since the 1980’s has been the “Live Aid” concert phenomenon. Originally fronted by rock stars like Bob Geldof and Bono, humanitarian aid became a spectacle in which celebrity-style “humanitarianism” could be used – intentionally or not – to perpetuate hegemonic control by the global north. From the first “Live Aid” concerts for famine relief in Ethiopia in 1985 (estimated audience 1.9 billion), to the “Live Aid 8” series of concerts in G8 countries in 2005 in support of the Global Call for Action Against Poverty, such spectacles often served to neutralize sustained international solidarity work, while simultaneously reviving atavistic notions such as the “White Man’s Burden”.

Live Aid fit well with the demands of global capitalism serving to obscure distinct phases in the exploitation of Africa.

However, the recent “Live Aid” spectacle on the Venezuelan border, organized and bankrolled by British oligarch Sir Richard Branson, went far beyond earlier “humanitarian” relief concerts. It was a cynical attempt to use “aid” to provoke an international incident and provide an excuse to overthrow an elected government.

On February 15 Sir Richard (estimated personal wealth $4 billion) announced plans for a “Venezuela Aid Live” concert to be held on February 22 in the Colombian city of Cucuta and live-streamed on the Internet. Its stated goal was to raise $100 million for food aid. Sir Richard, founder and CEO of British multinational venture capital conglomerate, the Virgin Group, stated that he was organizing the concert “at the request of Juan Guaido and ‘jailed opposition leader’ Leopoldo Lopez to draw attention to the crisis in Venezuela.” Guaido is the previously unknown Venezuelan politician who illegally swore himself in as president on January 10 after getting the go-ahead the previous day from US Vice-President Mike Pence and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Guaido’s political mentor, Leopoldo Lopez is Chairman of Empresas Polar, a company that controls flour production and distribution in Venezuela. It’s one of the foods that’s in short supply. Lopez was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in inciting a violent anti-Bolivarian coup attempt in 2015. In 2017 Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that he be transferred to house arrest as “a humanitarian gesture”. This has given him freedom to operate politically with the likes of Guaido and Branson.

The February 22 date for Sir Richard’s provocation is significant because Guaido had promised that the US “aid” accumulating in Colombia, Brazil and Curaçao (delivered by US military transport planes) would enter Venezuela at the same location on February 23. Guaido had been trying to convince the Venezuelan military to abandon President Maduro and open an “aid” corridor (operated by the U.S. and Guaido) that would allow direct foreign intervention in Venezuela. “Live Aid” was part of the PR campaign.

The ruse of aid for “starving Venezuelans” came amid threats by the USA and its allies: Canada, members of the EU, and the Lima Group countries. Sir Richard’s own statements ignored the fact that major relief organizations – the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Catholic aid group Caritas – would not cooperate with the “humanitarian” efforts of both US AID and the Lima Group, warning against using food as a political pawn. Western media downplayed the fact that the Venezuelan government was accepting aid from other countries, including Russia, China, and India.

So what actually happened at the “Live Aid” concert in Cucuta? Was it a success? For an operator like Branson, for whom all publicity is apparently good, it probably was. But compared to earlier “Live-Aid” spectacles it was a flop. Alejandro Sanz, Nacho, Luis Fonsi, and Maluma may be prominent regional musical acts, but where was the global star-studded cast? Where were the video clips of concert highlights and close-ups of happy crowds?

Once again, the voice of rock musician Roger Waters has made a difference. Thanks to his celebrity status, Waters can actually penetrate corporate and state-run media. His public comments challenged both Branson and Bernie Sanders. When the US Senator called for Maduro to let US “aid” into Venezuela, Waters tweeted: “Bernie, are you f-ing kidding me? if you buy the Trump, Bolton, Abrams, Rubio line, ‘humanitarian intervention’ and collude in the destruction of Venezuela, you cannot be a credible candidate for President of the USA. Or, maybe you can, maybe you’re the perfect stooge for the 1%”.

In the immediate aftermath of the “Live aid” stunt there were outrageously high estimates of crowd sizes. Organizers claimed more than 300,000 attended. The Washington Post estimated 200,000. But drone photos, published on Moon of Alabama on February 23, using credible crowd density math, suggested dramatically lower attendance in the range of 20,000-30,000. What about that $100 million that was going to be raised? A look at the “Live Aid” website ( reveals nothing. As of this writing the site contains only pre-concert publicity.

How about the “aid” convoy on February 23? Did it succeed? The hoped-for breach of the border did not happen. Neither were there mass defections from the army. Guaido’s supposed mass support was shown to be largely inflated. And there was no effective false flag to serve as a pretext for US military intervention. True, the firebombing of an “aid” truck on the Colombian side of the border was blamed on the Maduro administration, but video evidence quickly circulated around the world showing that it was caused by a Molotov cocktail thrown by a provocateur sympathetic to Guaido. By mid-March, even the New York Times was admitting as much.

At the same time as the Sir Richard’s “Live Aid”, on the other side of the border, there was a government-sponsored “Hands Off Venezuela” concert that presented more than 150 artists. The turnout was quite large, judging by photographs, though I could not find official crowd-size estimates, and most English-language media either ignored or denigrated the event. The Venezuelan government simultaneously offered a day of free medical attention for Colombian and Venezuelan citizens.

The coup plotters have not given up. Their “humanitarian aid” stunt foiled, they are now stepping up economic sanctions and sabotage. Last month, Bolivian President Evo Morales warned that the US “humanitarian aid” for Venezuela is a Trojan Horse. He declared that the US is seeking to provoke a war in order to seize the country’s natural resources and destroy political alternatives to the capitalist system. “Latin American brothers can not be accomplices to a military intervention,” Morales said. “To defend Venezuela is to defend the sovereignty of Latin America.”

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