The United States has funded rock groups in Venezuela to record songs promoting democracy – and undermining Hugo Chávez’s rule – according to documents released following a Freedom of Information Act request.
More than 10 groups were hired in 2011 to produce new songs promoting free speech in this oil-rich country. The $ 22,970 program, which was to culminate in a battle-of-the-bands style concert, was approved by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a non-governmental agency tasked with promoting democracy abroad.
The partially drafted grant application was uncovered by Tim Gill, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and shows the efforts of US officials “to promote greater thinking among young Venezuelans on free speech, their link with democracy and the state of democracy in the country ”.
Gill said the revelations were unorthodox but unsurprising. “The NED has supported many causes to promote democracy, not all of them harmful,” said the scholar. “But the problem is, it has the capacity to fund some voices rather than others.”
Successive US governments have sought to overthrow Chávez, whose so-called Bolivarian revolution was based in part on anti-American sentiment.
The populist leader was briefly overthrown in 2002 in a military coup. It later emerged that the George W Bush administration knew about the coup in advance, although Washington publicly distanced itself from any involvement.
In 2011, US officials were apparently exploring less dramatic measures to undermine his leadership.
“I can’t imagine they thought that alone was going to overthrow the government,” said Gill. “But does music matter and does it shape people’s opinions?” I could draw a straight line from listening to punk rock to reading Noam Chomsky and learning things about revolutions and interventions that they don’t teach in schools.
This isn’t the only time the United States has tried to ignite unrest through music in hostile Latin American countries. In 2014, it was revealed that USAid, the US development aid organization, had secretly attempted to infiltrate Cuba’s underground hip-hop scene.
Neither of these plots seems to have yielded many tangible results. It was also unclear why Venezuela’s plan focused on rock music in a country whose airwaves are dominated by salsa, merengue and reggaeton.
Chávez died of cancer in 2013, leaving a plummeting economy to Nicolás Maduro, his successor. And attempts to oust the Venezuelan leader have continued at a steady pace.
A 2019 plot to spark a military uprising in support of opposition leader Juan Guaidó failed within hours, and earlier this month American mercenaries carried out a botched raid to capture Maduro.
The latter plan quickly fell apart with the capture of two Americans, allowing Maduro to appear triumphant on state television.