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Amidst the ongoing US-backed coup attempt, a group of Venezuelan artists decided to write a song dedicated to the current situation with a very direct title: 'The Time for Peace is Now' ('La Paz Es Ya').
The song comes as a foreign intervention threat against the elected government of Nicolas Maduro hangs in the air, with both US President Donald Trump and self-proclaimed 'Interim President' Juan Guaido repeatedly refusing to rule out the possibility of military action to achieve regime change in Caracas.
In this interview we talk to José Alejandro Delgado, poet and songwriter, as well as one of the main drivers behind the initiative, about the song's message, the focus on peace, and the role of artists in times of crisis.
How did this 'La Paz Es Ya' initiative emerge?
To start with, let me tell you a bit about the ideas and reasons that led to this effort. We have effectively always had difficulty in communicating on a mass scale what is going on. It is a reality that we must learn to live with. The media, social media, is all designed to silence the slightest possibility of change, of transformation, of consciousness, of awareness.
On January 21, 22, 23, 2019 we started to see how a renewed opposition offensive looked to generate a fight amongst brothers in our poor neighbourhoods, with paid groups unleashing terror. They did not achieve it because our people are resistant, they are mature and patient. The song ' La Paz Es Ya ' was born during those nights. From that point we launched an initiative with the same name, where we called on artists around the world to record short videos meant for social media with their message of solidarity and peace for Venezuela. Like the song says, 'It's not for tomorrow or later,' we want peace now, we want it to reign on our streets.
Despite attempts to sow instability, our people are at peace. That does not mean we do not have problems, or that the state does not have shortcomings. There are people in the state who perhaps are not confronting threats in the manner they should, sometimes they drive us crazy with a discourse that does not correlate with actions. It is very hard to transform the state, but the progress we have made cannot be abandoned or undone. The opposition that claims to defend democracy and to have a plan to save the country are the same people who left Chávez a totally devastated country with 60 percent living in poverty [in 1998]. There is a lot to be fixed, but changes need to come from within the revolution.
What can you tell us about the message of the song?
I have traveled a lot, in Venezuela and around the world. And one realises that class struggle is always present, and that we must always take it into account.
The song starts with 'You and me are part of this because we are the same people,' 'You and me know how to talk to each other staring each other in the eye.' We do not separate between Chavistas and opposition supporters. We look precisely for what defines our people, which is class struggle, class conscience, and also immense solidarity, which transcends any political differences.
Therefore the song had two goals. On one hand, as I said, to symbolically group people around their class status, and on the other to arouse a patriotic spirit with a song that is emotional, speaks to onessensibility, with a high artistic standard. The idea is that our homeland, our patria/matria, needs to be safeguarded, as do the instruments of peace, since we have advanced towards settling our differences through voting as opposed to killing each other.
In the official discourse we often hear words like 'aggression,' 'imperialism,' 'sovereignty,' but in this case there is a complete focus on peace. Why this choice?
Why the focus on peace? Because in peace we can debate everything. It is in peace that we can listen to each other, put ourselves in someone else's shoes. Everyone has their vision, and if we do not have a plural vision, how can we build a collective society? But we will not get the chance to see one side or the other if we are at war. War will take us to the most primitive state, where it is everyone for themselves.
That is not the scenario we want, that is why we do not see peace as an accessory, but as something that needs to be at the centre of our efforts. Peace needs to be front and centre, like the admission ticket for us to communicate, to go out on the street and talk to whomever. In this context we need to do everything we can to avoid a path that will lead to human losses, that should be our main effort.
When we talk about peace we also talk about the instruments of peace, which are elections. Chavismo has won almost every election in Venezuela, with international accompaniment. This is an instrument that works well and has been improved and perfected. We cannot go back on this, to something more primitive. Why is the possibility of returning to primitive ways to solve problems back on the table? Because a sector of spoiled brats that had always owned the country do not have the maturity to understand that our people have changed. The political, democratic culture of our people has been changing, and they have not been up to the task. They cannot be, because their project is to abandon self-determination, devastate the country once again, grow rich on the shoulders of the majority. This is what our pueblo (people) have understood and do not want, and it is within their rights not to want it.
Along those lines, there is a verse in the song that comes to mind, where it says 'Because we are no longer invisible ghosts, we want peace now.' What is the meaning of this?
This verse was written by Ernesto Navarro, it is part of a collective poem also called 'La Paz Es Ya,' from where the chorus of the song comes from. I think this verse captures this feeling of what we have been doing in this past 20 years. Despite the invisibility that the media and political establishment try to impose, our people, who remain invisible in certain spaces, continue to surprise everyone with their decisions.
In other words, a people subjected to this aggression and who endure this crisis would be expected to rebel against their government. But our reality is very different, and recent elections, which are the most tangible way of measuring the people's intentions, back this up.
I think there is a phenomenon in the left, instigated by wise people who do not leave university hallways, which has played a role in generating confusion about Venezuela. At the same time, the same academic left has not been interested in really investigating what Chavismo represents.
For example, nobody investigates mothers in the barrios, these women that have been affected by machismo, that have been oppressed, have kids, and yet are also the CLAP [Local Supply and Production Committees, responsible for distributing subsidised food] spokespeople. The CLAPs have been a tool to organise people in contingencies like we have seen recently with electricity and water problems. The people running the CLAP are mostly women, revolutionary women. Many have never read Marx, and why should they? They are the embodiment, they are writing history, they are the written poem on everyday life.
Therefore the invisible people of history continue to make themselves felt. They are the equivalent of what in music we call the anonymous author, the one who encapsulates the people's feelings, who has written the best songs we have, through the indelible ink of the voices of human beings who claim them as their own and share them from one generation to the next.
ciudadcancion.jpg The latest edition of Ciudad Canción, a monthly concert held in Caracas, was dedicated to peace.
What role do artists play in the current context?
Everyone who participated in this initiative 'La Paz Es Ya' is a long time brother/sister in this struggle, in song and in joy. We have always been clear on the role of music, the role of art, in times of crisis. We need to be entirely at the service of our people, of our communities, of our families. That is how we were trained, with this language that reaches people's hearts, their consciences, and can represent a timely hug or a timely scream.
That is why we have been out there collaborating. Even in critical moments such as the electrical blackout we decided to visit hospitals, visit communities, hold anti-imperialist gatherings in different spaces. We could witness that people are active, many people are conscious, and we tried to fill those silences, or those anxieties that are generated in times of crisis, with the content that we feel needs to be debated and should not be abandoned.
On one hand we ask ourselves and debate: why is there a blackout, who is responsible for these actions, how much has it cost us, what is the cost in human lives? At the same time we try to create spaces with artistic quality, with many wonderful people who are fluent in the language of music and its effect on society. We all belong to the people, and we have been active in raising our banner of peace and defending the terrain we have conquered in this symbolic battle.
That is the role of artists , I think. We drink all of our imagination from our people, and we have the possibility of taking a step back from it all, which many people do not due to complex life situations. Therefore the results of this process, songs and poems, should be returned to our people, and that is why we create songs the way we do, why we share them the way we do.
To wrap it up, can you tell us a bit about Ciudad Canción ?
Ciudad Canción is a project that was born a year and a half ago, we have had 15 editions here in Caracas. Each edition has a theme, based on which we invite poets and musicians to create a repertoire together, to write songs. So we are renovating the city's songbook. The artists have a limited window in which to create, so they need to organise their ideas, their feelings, to work on synthesising them, which is very important nowadays. By doing that you are 'decanting' your spirit as a creator, and the same thing happens to the audience once they are exposed to what you have created.
It is a project that has always had this simmering idea of chaos, of crisis. When things get tougher we try to find calm in order to come up with creative proposals that can keep up with what we need. We do that by creating songs, while other people might do it in agriculture, for example. Many things will need to be reinvented and changed with this crisis, a crisis which also presents us with the opportunity to make necessary transformations.