CARACAS, Venezuela — People are crowded into the streets around Caracas’ Plaza Jose Marti. Smoke billows through the air and tear gas canisters hit the pavement. It has become a familiar scene in Caracas, where protesters have been demonstrating for weeks against a government they believe is slowly becoming a dictatorship.
But today something is different.
The sound of a sole violin pierces the air. A young man, wearing a helmet painted with his country’s flag, braces the instrument under his chin and confidently draws a bow over its strings.
The unidentified young man, who appears to be in his early 20s, is surrounded by protesters; one holds up a makeshift shield to protect him. Some protesters nearby throw Molotov cocktails at government forces. The musician doesn’t seem to hear the chaos around him, just the music he creates.
Iván Ernesto Reyes, a video journalist for Efecto Cocuyo, a Venezuelan independent media outlet, captured the moment on video.
When Reyes first heard the sounds of a violin, he thought the music was being played on speakers, he said. “We turned and looked, and saw this kid.”
Reyes lost sight of the violinist in the crowd, only to spot him again about half an hour later.
“And there he was, standing, playing the Venezuelan anthem, and with a couple of kids that were around him, sort of protecting him,” Reyes said.
He posted the footage of the musician on Twitter, saying “Today I witnessed a true example of magical realism. A protester played his violin while the (national guards) threw teargas and pellets.”
“There were bombs, teargas and repression, but he kept playing his violin. He did not stop,” Reyes said. “Too bad I wasn’t able to speak with him because he was constantly playing.”
Death of a violinist
Venezuela has been in a state of widespread unrest since March 29, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court dissolved parliament and transferred all legislative powers to itself. Doing away with the opposition-controlled legislative branch would have left the remaining two branches of Venezuelan government controlled by President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party. The opposition was outraged and called the move a coup.
Though the decision was reversed three days later, protests continued across the country, which is in the grip of severe food shortages and an economic crisis.
The protests have at times turned bloody, and 36 people have been killed, according to Venezuela’s attorney general’s office; more than 750 have been injured. Some deaths have been linked to opposition and pro-government protests, while others happened during acts of vandalism unrelated to the political unrest.
Only last week, a different violinist died in protests that turned violent. A bullet pierced 18-year-old Armando Cañizales’ neck on Caracas’ Francisco Fajardo highway.
Cañizales’ friend Maru González remembered exchanging a few words with him in the chaos. “We told him, ‘Let’s go back,'” she said. “And he didn’t want to. He told us, ‘I will stay here, fighting for my country.'” Shortly afterward, Cañizales was dead.
Two days later, Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami said on state television that Cañizales got caught in the crossfire between violent protesters and national guards.
It was the “violent groups who shot and caused his death, whether it was deliberate or an accidental death,” El Aissami said.
The teenager played the violin in Venezuela’s popular youth music program, El Sistema. During Cañizales’ funeral, fellow members of the program played the Venezuelan national anthem in his honor. It was a room full of young men and women, many tears in their eyes, the country’s flag being held in the air. The room was filled with young men and women, many with tears in their eyes, holding the country’s flag in the air.