As It Happens: Venezuela Live Aid Kicks Off Amid Calls For Liberty, Richard Branson Comments

AP Photo/Fernando Vergara
Venezuelan singer Carlos Baute gets ready to embrace Venezuela Aid Live concert organizer Sir Richard Branson, prior to the start of the concert on the Colombian side of the Tienditas International Bridge on the border with Venezuela on Feb. 22, 2019. 

Venezuela Live Aid kicked off this morning at the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, with presenters and artists clad all in white. More than 30 artists -- including Maná, Alejandro Sanz and Juanes, among others -- are expected to perform at the massive border concert organized by British billionaire Richard Branson to raise awareness of Venezuela’s plight and raise $100 million in humanitarian aid. International aid for Venezuela has languished at the Cúcuta-Venezuela border for weeks, while the Venezuelan government declines to allow it to enter the beleaguered country.

Juan Guaidó, the self-proclaimed new leader of Venezuela and leader of the opposition, is supporting the massive free concert, which is being live-streamed on multiple media outlets. The total attendance was 317,000, according to authorities. Across the border, current Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is planning his own concert in response to Branson's Live Aid, which he and his government say will feature some 150 artists in a competing event called "Hands Off Venezuela." According to Twitter reports, use of YouTube and Google was blocked in Venezuela during the Live Aid show.

The concerts are both set to begin this weekend; Venezuela Live Aid is already underway.

Reporter Roberto Cardona is on the ground, following the action. Below are his dispatches from Cúcuta; this post will be updated regularly.

10:00: a.m.: It is very chaotic here. I arrived very early to the press area and there were no credentials. After walking some two hours under the sun, we are finally able to go into the concert area.

10:30: The Washington Post reports Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on a group of civilians attempting to deliver aid through the Brazilian border. One woman was killed.

10:35: “I know many Venezuelans who have had to leave their country because they couldn’t get their basic necessities," Branson tells Billboard. "Medical supplies. Inflation is running wild, babies are dying. A wealthy country has become a very poor country. We wanted to try to get humanitarian aid into Venezuela, we wanted to bring the world’s attention to what was happening in Venezuela. We thought we’d do it and have a joyous day with wonderful bands at the same time. Every single band has offered its time for free.

"[The concert] has nothing whatsoever to do with military intervention," he continues. "The Venezuelans don’t want military intervention. All Venezuelans want a peaceful, new election that is monitored by the international community to get Venezuela back on its feet again. The last thing any of us wants is a military intervention.”

11:23: Venezuelan veteran star Jose Luis Rodriguez, “El Puma,” takes the stage. Before singing his hit “Agarrense de las manos,” singing live to track, he says to the crowd, “Is it too much to ask for liberty after 20 years of dictatorship? Enough with the leftist dictatorships in Latin America. Thank you president Guadió. To the Venezuelans who are still there, don’t dismay. The blood that has run won’t be in vain.”

1:30 p.m.: Authorities now say there are over 400,000 people in attendance, despite the heat: temperatures are at 30 degrees centigrade (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Mexican pop star Paulina Rubio hit the stage and was the most successful artist so far in the lineup, performing three of her classic hits. She is still trending on twitter.

Another Mexican group, pop trio Reik, also garnered tons of applause, especially after performing “Un año” (One Year), a song that’s become an exile anthem for the Venezuelan diaspora. They played an encore, an anomaly for the day.

2:12: Right now, Silvestre Dangond is performing his hit "Casate Conmigo" with his entire vallenato band.

“I also have a message in this day," Dangond said. "We could have avoided this if the heart of other people had understood that there are people that are thirsty, who are hungry who want liberty. We, the artists, will be here as long as you need us. I feel Venezuelan!" He then shouted out to his friend Juan Luis who brought out Maluma, who took the stage to sing their duet “Vivir Bailando" which, Maluma said, they were performing live for the first time ever.

3:55: Performing at the border was particularly significant for Venezuelan artists who have literally seen their world collapse around them. “To be at the bridge, so close to Venezuela, is really emotional,” said Chyno Miranda, one half of Venezuelan duo Chino y  Nacho. “But this is the best gift we can give our children: that Venezuela and Colombia are one.”

4:10: Colombia’s Carlos Vives was the first artist Branson called on to perform. “History has shown us that Venezuelans are not a people who migrate,” he told Billboard backstage. “Now we understand them and we love them." Explaining his decision to participate, he added, "The nature of an artist is to collaborate. My parents taught me one should sing when people needed and wanted you to sing.”

4:12: "It’s an exciting and historic moment with a generation that wants liberty," Paulina Rubio tells Billboard. "We are here to help the people of Venezuela, to put a little bit of pressure." And although many artists literally flew themselves to Cúcuta, Rubio said her situation was different. “It wasn’t difficult to get here," she says. "The president of Colombia and Richard Branson gave us every help possible. They brought us from where we were at.”

5:09: Sources tell Billboard that Branson has plans to release a documentary on the event. Meanwhile, Maná, on the heels of announcing their Rayando el Sol Tour, is performing that iconic song with the whole crowd singing along, in what's been one of the most emotional moments of the whole day.

5:24: The grand finale is Juanes, the iconic Colombian artist who played a concert for peace here several years ago as well. He's getting on stage now.

6:03: As a surprise ending, Venezeulan duo Chino y Nacho reunited in solidarity for their country, performing together for the first time in years. Nacho has been incredibly vocal in his criticism of Maduro in the past two years especially.

7:55: At the end, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, Colombian president Iván Duque Márquez and Paraguayan president Mario Abdo Benítez all took the stage with Branson. Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader, was going to join them, but opted not to at the last minute due to security concerns. Branson shouted, "libertad!" and the event concluded without incident.

This post is being updated as more information becomes available.