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Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt

Isn’t it amazing how the billionaires of the world seem to think they can meddle in anything and everything? “We Are the World!” they appear to assume, picking up on that “humanitarian” song from thirty years ago. I guess all that champagne consumed at Davos and elsewhere goes directly to their egos, inspiring new heights of arrogance and intrigue.

On February 15th Sir Richard Branson (whose net worth is estimated at about $4 billion) announced plans for a “Venezuela Aid Live” concert to be held on February 22 in the Colombian city of Cucuta and also live-streamed on the Internet, to raise $100 million for food aid.

Founder of the Virgin Group (400+ companies), Sir Branson is setting up the concert “at the request of” Juan Guaido (who declared himself interim president on Jan. 23) “and jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to draw attention to the crisis in Venezuela. ‘Our goal is to raise $100 million dollars in 60 days and reopen Venezuela’s border so humanitarian aid can finally reach those millions who need it the most,’ said Branson.” [1]

There’s a lot to unpack in that one paragraph, so let’s start there and save the list of performers for later.

The Date

Juan Guaido has frequently pledged that the aid piling up in Colombia, Brazil and Curacao will enter Venezuela on Feb. 23. So Sir Branson’s concert is scheduled the day before Guaido’s deadline. Guaido has frequently taunted the Venezuelan military, trying to entice them into abandoning President Nicolas Maduro and opening a Trojan Horse aid corridor (operated by the U.S. and Guaido) that would allow direct foreign intervention in Venezuela.

Major relief organizations – the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Catholic aid group Caritas – have so far been reluctant to cooperate with the so-called “humanitarian” food and supply efforts of both US AID and the Lima Group, warning against using food as a political pawn.

As Adam Johnson wrote for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), “We have ample evidence the Maduro government is more than willing to work with international aid when it’s offered in good faith, not when it’s a thinly veiled mechanism to spur civil war and contrive PR victories for those seeking to overthrow the government. It’s not just Maduro – as the Western media are presenting it – who opposes the US aid convoy; it’s the UN and Red Cross. Why do none [of the mainstream media] note this rather key piece of information, instead giving the reader the impression it’s only the stance of a sadistic, power-hungry madman?” [2]

Sir Branson’s concert is part of that PR campaign. While Sir Richard could easily pony-up the $100 million himself from petty cash, he wants the rest of us to naively pitch in and participate in this PR stunt.

Branson is also one of those multi-billionaires perennially criticized in the UK for his clever tax avoidance. Like most of the uber-rich, he prefers to be a philanthropist. A columnist for The Guardian (UK) has provided a useful definition of that term: “a rich person who doesn’t want to pay tax or fair wages but does want to get applauded for giving a bit of money to a charity of their choice now and again.” [3]

The Location

Cucuta, Colombia (where the concert will take place) is the main entrance for Venezuelans migrating to Colombia. According to Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, “Curcuta has a high presence of Colombian paramilitaries and smuggling mafias and is where those who attempted to assassinate [President] Nicolas Maduro last year were trained.” [4] So for those who want to establish a Trojan Horse “humanitarian corridor” into Venezuela, the Colombian city of Cucuta is a logical choice.

On Saturday, February 16, a U.S. military transport plane carrying tons of aid landed in Cucuta. It was the first of three such U.S. military flights scheduled to arrive this week. According to The Guardian (UK), “The acting US defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, said on Saturday the US used military aircraft to send aid to the Venezuelan border in Colombia because of the urgency of the humanitarian needs. ‘It’s a message to Venezuela that we are supporting their humanitarian needs,’ Shanahan said, adding the aid was being transported by three C-17 aircraft.” [5]

At the Saturday news conference in Cucuta, a representative for Juan Guaido told Reuters that “millions of Venezuelans” will be traveling to Cucuta by Feb. 23 to “safeguard arriving aid”. He said: “We are going to have the accompaniment of people, of hundreds of thousands, of millions of Venezuelans that our president, Juan Guaido, has called upon, who we have asked to go to the border dressed in white as a sign of peace.” [6]

Leopoldo Lopez

Sir Branson has stated that his Venezuela Aid Live concert has been set up at the request of Juan Guaido and “jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez”. Actually, Lopez isn’t in jail but is under house arrest – very lenient treatment, as we shall see.

While there is much mainstream media reporting about lengthy bread lines in Venezuela and the lack of flour for making bread, such reporting overlooks a crucial fact. Leopoldo Lopez is the Chairman of the Board for Empresas Polar, the private company that controls the majority of the flour production and distribution in Venezuela.

To my knowledge, there’s been only one English-language report of this fact: FAIR (Feb. 8, 2019) reported, “Conspicuously, it’s the products that [Empresas] Polar has a near-monopoly in that are often in shortest supply. This is hardly a secret, but never mentioned in the copious stories (CNN, Bloomberg, Washington Post, NPR) focusing on bread lines in the country.” [7]

Evidently, Leopoldo Lopez as Chairman of the company, could immediately change the situation of flour-scarcity and lengthy bread lines if he wanted to.
So who is Leopoldo Lopez? Besides being the Chairman of Empresas Polar and the political party mentor of Juan Guaido, Lopez has a very dubious past.

As noted by Stephen Lendman, “In September 2015, anti-Bolivarian fascist coup plotter Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison for inciting months of violence and related crimes against the state [of Venezuela]. They resulted in 43 deaths, many injuries and destruction of public property. Lopez got off lightly. In America, he’d likely have been prosecuted and convicted of sedition, sentenced to decades or life in prison.” [8] But in July 2017, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that Leopoldo Lopez be transferred to house arrest as “a ‘humanitarian gesture,’ citing unexplained health issues.” [9]

Of course, by being moved to house arrest, Leopoldo Lopez regained freedom to operate politically through associates like Juan Guaido and now Sir Richard Branson.
As of February 15 (according to Sir Branson’s website), the performers scheduled for the Venezuela Aid Live concert include Peter Gabriel, Nacho, Alejandro Sanz, Carolos Vives and Juanes, Luis Fonsi, and Miguel Bose.

There is a growing movement to ignore the live-streamed event on the Internet, refusing to participate in Sir Branson’s (and Juan Guaido’s and Leopoldo Lopez’s) PR stunt.

Interestingly, in announcing his concert, Sir Branson had said, “We must break this impasse or soon many Venezuelans will be on the edge of starvation or death.” Why doesn’t Sir Branson simply pick up the phone and ask Leopoldo Lopez to direct his company Empresas Polar, and other Venezuelan private sector food and medical suppliers, to stop preventing supplies from reaching the public”?

Footnotes:
[1] “Richard Branson announces Venezuela Aid Live concert which aims to raise $100 million for food and supplies in the crisis-hit country,” Daily Mail (UK), February 15, 2019.
[2] Adam Johnson, “Western Media Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt,” Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, February 9, 2019.
[3] Arwa Mahdawi, “Don’t call Howard Schultz a billionaire. He’s a ‘person of means’,” The Guardian, February 6, 2019.
[4] Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, “Venezuela: US Pursuing Humanitarian Aid Path to War,” Global Research, February 6, 2019.
[5] Reuters, “US aid for Venezuela arrives in Colombia, but delivery uncertain,” The Guardian, February 17, 2019.
[6] Quoted in ibid.
[7] Alan MacLeod, “’Venezuela’: Media’s One-Word Rebuttal to the Threat of Socialism,” Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, February 8, 2019.
[8] Stephen Lendman, “Venezuelan Coup Plotter Released to House Arrest,” Global Research, July 11, 2017.
[9] Ibid.

More articles by:

Joyce Nelson’s sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be ordered at: http://watershedsentinel.ca/banksters. She can be reached through www.joycenelson.ca.

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