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Death of Hugo Chavez: a Venezuelan artist writes

Gabriela Montero has been an outspoken critic of the radical socialism and social chaos brought into being by the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela. Here, she posts for Slipped Disc, her first reaction to the president’s death.


gabriela montero colours

Today, Chavez died. Venezuela needs a renewal. We don’t need the emotional and social disease that has infiltrated our society. We need POSITIVE change for all. We don’t need the attempts of the government to instill more paranoia. The “Imperialists” did not poison Chavez and cause his cancer. We need to work towards a Venezuela free of these toxic thoughts that defy logic and manipulate the emotions of the Venezuelan people. We need good people to lead. I congratulate the students in my country for being so brave and selfless. To all those people who are mourning the death of one man, please, mourn the 21,000 plus people who were murdered in Venezuela last year. Think about that very real figure. Who is mourning all those victims? Think about the social decay that Venezuelans live in, day in and day out. Let’s keep the perspective of our recent history, and be conscious that a lot of work needs to be done.


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  1. Charles Ogilvy says:

    I find Ms Montero’s statement arrogant and imposing. She writes in a tone to suggest she is some kind of State President advising the public what to think or do. If she feels so strongly about it, she should get into politics. If not, she should continue doing what she does best which is the play the piano.

    It’s so easy to make a statement from afar without actually doing something about it. At the very least she should be open and truthful about everything that is going on in Venezuela, including the big question as to the ethical involvement of El Sistema of Abreu with Chavez and how they found it convenient to keep quiet and support Chavez because without him El Sistema would not survive. But to open that issue Ms Montero would have to go against Abreu, Dudamel, Matheuz et al which would not do her standing or reputation as an artist any good and she knows it, hence her silence.

    Double standards is what comes to mind.

    • Rob2222 says:

      I agree.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      Sorry. This needed an informed response.

      Firstly, the statement above is not an official one, but a personal one. That is important to note.

      Secondly, Gabriela HAS indeed “done something about it”. Her protests are well documented, and have always taken the form of a passionate, sincere, humanitarian (not political) reaction against extreme levels of murder and corruption in Venezuela. She has loudly and strenuously expressed her outrage at an official murder rate that ranks Venezuela among the three most dangerous countries on earth and establishes Caracas as the world’s most dangerous capital city. This is her “cri de guerre” and always has been, not political ideology.

      In 2010 she released an album which made her position very clear and public (Solatino). The color red was removed from the album in protest at the extraordinary violence, turning the famous red EMI logo black, and a personal statement was published in the sleeve. She has taken the message to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Twice. She has written a one-movement piano concerto denouncing violence in Venezuela, dedicated officially to the 19,336 victims of murder in 2011, and documented it in a film (ExPatria, youtube). She has published an op-ed in the Huffington Post and contributed to a lengthy piece on El Sistema in the New York Times. (Link provided below).

      So, while navigating the packed schedule of a concert pianist, she has indeed taken the time to do what she considers her civic duty, and she has spoken loudly, and always with dignity. She has no presidential aspirations. I urge you to read the statement above in the context of her long history of activism on Venezuela’s human crisis, and accord her a little more respect.

      And no, this is not a promotion of Gabriela Montero, before anyone jumps in with that old chestnut. I am simply setting the record straight. And yes, I do live with her, but that does not alter any of the above substance either. It is all on record.


      • Dr. Emilio Pons says:

        I find it extremely petty and reprehensible to criticize an artist –who is, after all, a public figure– precisely for using her prominence to speak out at a crucial time like this ! Ms. Montero’s opinion matters *precisely* because as a prominent Venezuelan artist, she has the power –and even arguably the responsibility– to steer public opinion.

        The notion that *only* politicians (let alone *only* heads of state, as Mr. Ogilvy seems to suggest) should have the ability to address an important political issue before a large audience is blatantly absurd. Not only does it belittle the freedom of speech that all citizens enjoy; it is also detrimental to any democratic system which requires the active participation of all individuals in matters that affect all members of society, and which participation is not merely limited to voting whenever there are elections.

        Furthermore, the notion that Ms. Montero and her peers should have rejected any positive steps by the otherwise reprehensible dictator Hugo Chavez to further the arts in Venezuela, is as outrageous as suggesting that artists in the USA should have boycotted any artistic institution which benefited from the government of say, George W. Bush, simply because the latter led the country astray in various other instances (from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the financial missteps which led to the current financial crisis, the analysis of which is certainly beyond the scope of this comment).

        I applaud both Ms. Montero for her integrity and amply displayed sense of civic courage and responsibility, and I applaud Mr. McElroy for setting the record straight.

    • Anonymous says:

      What an absurd idea–take all political commentary away from artists. If you de-politicized art, what in the world would we have left to listen to, look at, or read?

  2. Remarkable on-site blog that covered Venezuela’s painful sinking:

  3. Well, it’s her opinion. She’s one of 28m Venezuelans. So what? The statement seems rather trivial, so I can’t see why it sould be particularly relevant.

    • Gabriela Montero is one of many Venezuelans who left the country due the climate of fear fostered by the Chavez regime. She has more right to comment on his death than those who, faraway and pseudonymous, risk nothing by disparaging her statement.

      • Marguerite Foxon says:

        I agree 100%. Easiest thing to do is say nothing.

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        No issue with her statement, but she left the country long before Chavez rose to power, let’s be accurate.

        • No, she didn’t. Stick to what you know.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            Sorry for your harsh tone. When did she leave Venezuela then? According to my information, she has spent most of her adult life abroad. Certainly already in 1999 when Chavez rose to power. Please tell us if you have different information. Her family left Venezuela and moved to Miami when she was around ten and they lived there for 10 years. She then moved to London. The last years she lived in Boston.

            So according to public information, she has not lived in Venezuela for the last 30 years approx. Chavez ruled Venezuela for the last 13 years. Unless she moved back to Venezuela in the 90s and lived there when Chavez rose to power (1999), I think you are wrong.

          • It has always been her home. She studied elsewhere and returned frequently until the past 3-4 years. The rest is private information.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            She might have returned frequently for visits, but she has lived abroad before she even was a teenager. So she didn’t exactly “leave the country” because of Chavez. She left it to study in the US. Approx. 30 years ago.

  4. Bravo, Gabriela! The leftist thug (redundant, I know) is dead, and we can all celebrate his passing at the hands of Cuban medicine (thoughts, Michael Moore?) for a short time. I hope that the next leader of Venezuela truly represents the interests of all of its citizens.

  5. Charles Ogilvy says:

    Norman, Everybody has a right to comment in equal terms, otherwise you are encouraging the same censorship that you visibly abhor. If Ms Montero makes a statement then we all have a right to reply freely and you, Norman, have no right to tell us what we can or cannot say if we are educated and coherent in our response. Being an avid reader of your site that is what you seem to uphold – freedom of speech and bringing the dirty laundry of the music business out to the general public.

    Sam – by the way, Caracas was as dangerous a city before Chavez if you read statistics. Just be reading Ms Montero’s biography it is clear that she left Venezuela much before Chavez came into power. In fact she has been Miami and London based most of her life. If you live with her you should know that. And I am really sorry, but Ms Montero’s comments in the NY times on Chavez/El Sistema is so vague and demonstrates exactly what I have been saying – instead of pointing the finger at Abreu and co (who states that he lives in free and democratic country…..?!!!!) she blames Chavez.

    Norman has been the first one to rightly crucify Herbert von Karajan for having supported the Nazi regime. Of course I am not comparing Chavez to the Nazi regime but only using it as an example – if Chavez is responsible for all the attrocities that Ms Montero so eloquently informs us about, then EVERYBODY supporting the Chavez regime should receive that same condemnation. But no – silence from Ms Montero on that and sorry – but silence from you, Norman, on that too.



    • Sam McElroy says:

      It is so frustrating to have to constantly respond to people who have not done their research. Charles, read the Huff Post piece. In fact, here you go. How much more clear can this be? And note that she does not EVER describe these murders as state-sanctioned, but as the consequence of the breakdown of civil order under Chavez’s watch.

      From “A COUNTER CRY” (Huffington Post, 27/09/2012), by Gabriela Montero

      “In 2011, the UNODC reports 19,336 Venezuelan citizens were murdered, establishing Venezuela as the most deadly country in South America, and the third most deadly in the world behind Honduras and El Salvador. To relativize that figure, a country NOT at war produced more violent deaths in 2011 than all of the war-mired, Middle Eastern theaters combined. The death toll was ten times that per capita of the U.S. in its darkest days of urban violence before zero-tolerance. More Venezuelans were murdered in 2011 than all Syrians killed in the first 16 months of the current uprising, including government forces, rebel forces and civilians. Caracas is now the world’s most deadly capital city, with a murder rate in the region of 130 per 100,000. The Corruption Index on has condemned Venezuela to a shameful 1.9 points from a possible 10. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, widely considered a failed state, manages to scrape a 2.2.

      These figures are simply unacceptable in any civilized nation state. They represent a nation at war with itself. Behind them lies a broken system in which 90 percent of murders pass without an arrest being made, and a vicious class struggle whose arbitrator is the gun and the thug. They are fueled by the new rhetoric of the Bolivarian Revolution, in which a place at the table should be secured by any means, fair or foul. “Secuestro express” is a daily menace, often deadly, and sometimes carried out by the police themselves to supplement their poor wages. Armed gangs profile and seize a victim, and wait for thousands of dollars to be paid in ransom. If a glitch is perceived, the victim is simply killed and dumped.

      Underpinning this dehumanization and chaos is the central and tragic irony that Venezuela ought by now to have proudly established itself as the Norway of Latin America. In the current market, its abundant mineral and oil resources should have fueled a thriving Venezuelan economy, well able to provide the social services promised by the current administration. With systemic corruption and violence of this magnitude, however, comes gross inefficiency and structural decay. Venezuela refines 30 percent less crude oil than it did twenty years ago, and inflation peaked at 27 percent earlier this year.

      The Venezuelan who speaks out in opposition to systemic murder and corruption inevitably faces a chorus of non-sequiturs and the accusation of opposing the broader ideal of fairness and justice for all Venezuelans. I witnessed this opprobrium first hand, when I chose to compose “ExPatria” — a tone poem for piano and orchestra illustrating extreme violence and corruption. Most Venezuelans embrace the principle that a nation should benefit uniformly from the fair, efficient and transparent distribution of its resources. The fact remains, however, that this Scandinavian social utopia has simply not been delivered. A violent kleptocracy is the daily reality for the Venezuelan people, and it has no right to call itself a democracy, simply because a majority was fooled and cajoled into voting for it.

      In glaring contrast to the optimistic view of Venezuela exported by the success of “El Sistema,” the now celebrated youth orchestra program, it is my duty as an artist to expose, with what small voice I have, the tragic predicament of a country under curfew, whose citizens live in a real and present fear of the next murder, the next kidnapping and the next expropriation. We are all immensely grateful for the continued existence of “El Sistema,” founded some 37 years ago, and for its contribution to global musical life, but I am only too painfully aware that these small pockets of music represent a cultural and human oasis in a wider chaos whose malevolence is a constant and deadly threat to each and every member of society. What dangers do these youngsters face when they leave the sanctuary of the concert hall? To what can they look forward, when the music stops?

      I am not a politician. I am a musician. Far from wishing to stoke the flames of partisanship, my music is an unsolicited, personally financed, non-affiliated protest and personal expression of regret. It is my appeal for national reconciliation and regrowth. It is my attempt to emotionally and metaphorically inform those around the world who are unaware of, or actively mis-informed as to, the daily reality of life in a disintegrating, yet abundant and beautiful Venezuela. It is a counter-cry to those with a far louder voice than mine, respected members of the artistic community like Sean Penn, whose harmfully romanticized view of the Bolivarian Revolution bares no resemblance to the daily insecurity faced by a nation which can afford to do so, so much better. The Venezuelan people must now insist upon it, and the international community must keep vigil to ensure a peaceful and democratic presidential election on October 7th.”

    • “and you, Norman, have no right to tell us what we can or cannot say”

      I don’t think he did. He merely said that a Venezuelan with experience of the regime has “more right” to comment, relatively speaking, than someone who hasn’t, and who questioned the value of her comments in the first place.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mr Ogilvy, your opinions lead me to believe that you’ve never been in Caracas. My wife is from Caracas and I’ve been numerous times. Your assertion that Caracas is no more dangerous now than before Chavez is patently false! You used to be able to walk the streets, but this is no longer possible. I could list the number of friends and family members of my wife who have been kidnapped or murdered in recent years, but it’s too upsetting. No one with a personal connection to Venezuela could utter such an outrageous falsehood.

    • Pamela Peled says:

      Just what is your problem, CharlesOgilvy? You seem determined to wrong-foot Gabriela Montero. She has after all lived in Venezuela and has a perfect right to state what she feels was and is wrong there. Have you actually lived there and did you experience Chavez at first hand?

  6. Herbert von Karajan says:

    I get the feeling that not many of you are informed of what Chávez really did for the venezuelan people. Not people like this young talented pianist, who makes more than enough money to survive in any society and any country, but for those who really need help. The poor of the poorest, those who never counted for ANY government before Chávez. Those who’d never seen a school classroom or a hospital from the inside before Chávez. The day you understand that, you will understand why Chávez was so loved and could win so many elections. If you only believe what the pro capitalist media writes about a man, you’ll never find out anything true about him.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      Von Karajan. I thought you were dead. Where are you from? Have you lived in Venezuela, or are you quoting your own chosen media? You are right to ask what good Chavez did, because if he did some good on some level to mitigate his overwhelming failures he should be credited with those successes. So, in the name of balance, here is a balanced article. I take my sources from Venezuelans on the ground, not from the “pro capitalist media” media, whatever that means.This piece from a Venezuelan, then, self-published today as a CNN iReport:

      • Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:


        “Von Karajan. I thought you were dead.”

        Good point! I thought the same also. As you point out, he did do some good things and bad things depending on your political leanings and view points. Here in New England,

        ” Chavez helped 2 million Americans through a heating assistance program that the two men worked on together through Kennedy’s Citizen’s Energy charity. Kennedy said Chavez donated 200 million gallons of heating oil over eight years.”

        One can be as cynical as they want for his political reasons, but I don’t think poor cold folks cared much, and were grateful for the relief.

    • Chavez was a thief who enriched himself to the tune of $1 billion at the expense of the citizens of his country. Anyone concerned with the very real plight of Venezuela’s poor should encourage private development and investment instead of shifting dependency to the government. Governments, of course, eventually run out of other people’s money.

  7. David Boxwell says:

    Before Chavez, the vast majority of Venezuelans were immiserated in poverty. Under Chavez, the vast majority of Venzuelans were immiserated in poverty. After Chavez, the vast majority of Venezuelans will be immiserated in poverty.

    What 40K relatively privileged Venezuelan expats like Monteiro say or do, especially if they do not return to Venezuela, makes no difference to the daily lives of the vast majority of Venezuelans.

  8. Many of these “accusations” and “conspiracies” are products of the creative imagination of Roger Noriega of the American Enterprise Institute

  9. Charles Ogilvy says:

    If you know your history, you know that Venezuela was always a highly dangerous country. I agree with Sam that during Chavez’s reign crime increased, but to suggest that crime became a big problem since Chavez is just not realistic. It was a big problem before Chavez and will continue to be so after Chavez and none of it is attributed to him, at least not in the significant degree that Ms Montero suggests. Venezuela was always dangerous, period.

    And I am glad Sam printed the HT piece because it shows again no sign of Ms Montero condemning those responsible for El Sistema for their support for Chavez. Far from it. Ms Montero knows of Dudamel conducting a giant outdoor celebration of Venezuela’s bicentennial that was dominated by images of Chavez and the phrase “Onward, Commandante!”, she knew of photographs of Chavez with Dudamel and Abreu, she knew of Abreu’s public statement of how free he feels in Venezuela and her reaction to all that?….Silence!!!

    What did we do when we saw photographs of Karajan or Furtwangler conduct for Hitler? Condemn it, like we should, Norman being the first one. Again, I am not comparing Chavez with the Nazis because I don’t believe they are comparable, but I do think it is a good example if you read Ms Montero’s condemnation of Chavez and her convenient silence on El Sistema leaders and personalities.

    It is twice now that I have exposed why I think Ms Montero has double standards. I won’t do it anymore because I think it is becoming repetitive and not interesting to our readers.

    Readers can read the thread and make their own conclusions.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      Oh gosh… here we go. The HP piece is about civil breakdown and corruption in Venezuela. Her composition was a musical portrait of that civil breakdown, and a lament at the reality of how far Venezuela has decayed under Chavez. There is a giant leap between that thesis, and the rather more incendiary comparison that you draw between Chavez and Hitler, or Gustavo Dudamel and Furtwangler, or El Sistema and the Berlin Phil of WW2. Chavez left an unforgivable mess, but he did not invade his neighbors or attempt genocides, as far as I know. Nobody has claimed that. I imagine that is why Gabriela has not made such a lemming leap. But you would have to ask her that…. Signing off…. SM.

  10. Sam McElroy says:

    Bowing out. Too many tangents and non-sequiturs. Just watch Ross Kemp’s film on Caracas (it’s on vimeo) and ask yourself if you would like to live there, and if things should not be better there than bottom of the crime and corruption class after 14 years in power, given the vast oil assets and record oil prices. And maybe just salute an artist instead of shredding her, whatever her salary (less than you imagine and for which she works her ass off) and wherever she happens to now reside (she tried having a career with a home base in Venezuela but it was impossible, as you might appreciate) for taking a stance in support of the human rights and living standards that Chavez said he would deliver but did not. Over and out…..

  11. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I am in no position to judge the accomplishments or failures of Mr. Chavez. However, IMHO, a great man and a great leader, knowing that he was very seriously ill, would have prepared his succession in a better way and most probably not run for re-election last October. Ms. Montero is entitled to express her opinions which are certainly as valid as any of the others in this thread. Have there been any statements from Maestro Abreu?

  12. Charles Ogilvy says:


    I don’t think you should be so sentimental.

    Ms Montero is not the first nor the last artist who works her butt off for her profession and does not receive high financial compensation. It’s nobody’s fault other than her’s if it is claimed that she left her country because of Chavez when she had left the country much before Chavez came into power anyway. Perhaps she has vowed not to return because of Chavez, but that is not the same thing.

    For the record, I am not a Chavez supporter. I don’t agree with his methods nor what he achieved during his mandate. My issue is not with Chavez but with people with double standards such as Ms Montero and others that I have raised above.

    I think we all salute the artist she is since nobody has made a negative comment on that, but it’s her non-artistic comments that I and others take issue with.

    have a good day


  13. Life goes on. Expect another CIA attempted coup.

  14. I’m glad that Van Cliburn didn’t attempt to be politically active other than on a strictly musical basis and with conciliation in mind.

    Informed citizens have always known what a scoundrel Chávez was. Although to many of us, her statement might be preaching to the choir, Ms. Montero is right in that the moment is certainly ripe for the political climate of Venezuela to change. The people of Venezuela don’t HAVE to be poor, not with all of the oil they have there.

  15. John Mack says:

    Chavez represented a system that has always failed. He fooled the poor in thinking thate he cared and the educated left. He was a man who believed in his own meglomania. his death is good news for Venezuela.

  16. Well, what a debate this has turned out to be!

    For starters, Norman Lebrecht has not sought to censor anyone’s views here or their right to express them; if he had, we wouldn’t be reading them!

    Secondly, the double standards of which Ms Montero is being accused are not merely insulting and unwarranted, they take no account of what she has acquired through direct personal experience. Why should she not take a stand on such matters? She has a good deal of knowledge of them and clearly feels impelled to speak out and, as Sam clearly demonstrates, this is hardly the first time that she’s put her had above the parapet on these matters nor an isolated incidence of her actively trying to bring them to public and official attention – and she’s certainly not doing it for her own self-aggrandisement or to draw attention to herself.

    I accept that not everything done by the government under Chavez’s watch was bad and that, as mentioned earlier, he should at least be given due credit for any good that he did or enabled to be done but, at the same time, I have no evidence or cause to argue with a word of what Ms Montero has said. Yes, Venezuela was hardly a safe country in which to live in pre-Chavez days (I went there only once long before he assumed office), but I do believe that Ms Montero should be taken as seriously on this as she herself takes these matters seriously – and, as Robert Hairgrove has noted, “the people of Venezuela don’t HAVE to be poor, not with all of the oil they have there”.

    Many artists would shy away from making statements and acting as Ms Montero has done over such issues and many would be advised to steer well away from this kind of public involvement in the interests of their careers – so bravo to Ms Montero for what she has done.

    Would we all be happy if Daniel Barenboim just carried on conducting and playing the piano as he does and keep his nose out of other matters?

  17. Funny how all those “champions of the poor” seem to make more poor people than when they first took office. You need look no further than Venezuela for proof that Communism, Socialism, younameitism, where s despot rules only serves to make the despot richer (Chavez died with more net worth than Mitt Romney) and the poor, poorer.

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