Nicolás Maduro is waging a bizarre contest with Richard Branson to see who can stage the best pop concert — as Venezuela crumbles

Ariana Cubillos/AP; Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderA composite image of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and British businessman Richard Branson. They are planning rival concerts on different sides of the Venezuela-Colombia border.
  • British billionaire Richard Branson said on Monday that he will stage a massive pop concert just outside Venezuela to raise money for the country, which is in deep crisis.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro responded by announcing his plans for a rival concert the following day.
  • Maduro has systematically blocked US aid from entering the country. The US, EU, and most of Latin America have pledged support his rival, self-styled interim president Juan Guaidó.

Richard Branson and Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro are planning rival pop concerts in a bizarre twist to the country’s economic and political crisis.

The contest began when Branson announced a concert to be held this Friday on the Colombia side of the Colombia-Venezuela border, which he wants to raise money for the Venezuelan people, who are suffering food shortages.

After the plan became public, Maduro announced his own two-day concert, due to begin the day after Branson’s. Maduro’s concert will be called “Hands Off Venezuela,” The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Maduro will put on a show on this coming Saturday and Sunday on the Venezuelan side of the border, the AP reported. Venezuelan information minister Jorge Rodriguez as saying. It is not clear how far apart the sites will be, as the Maduro government has not yet announced a venue.

Maduro branson concertsGoogle Maps/INSIDERA map showing where Branson plans to stage his concert to raise money for Venezuela.

In an interview on Monday with the AP, Branson said he would stage a pop concert on Friday in Cucuta, a Colombian city outside Venezuela’s border that has hosted hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees over the past few months.

Branson said he plans to raise $US100 million for Venezuela’s citizens, who are suffering through one of the world’s worst economic crises and massive shortages of food and medicine.

A combination of decreasing oil prices, corruption, and hyperinflation has led to Venezuelans barely being able to afford food and medicine.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens have also been demanding Maduro’s resignation for weeks, saying that his presidency is unconstitutional and fraudulent. Maduro refuses to stand down.

Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly president, declared declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in late January. Branson also openly backs Guaidó.

The US, EU, Canada, and most countries in Latin America also pledged their support for Guaidó over the past few weeks. Russia, China, Turkey, Syria, Bolivia, Cuba, and many of Venezuela’s military leaders back Maduro and have characterised international support for Guaidó as foreign meddling.

Read more:
Trump urges Venezuela’s military to back its self-declared interim president, saying socialism has ravaged the country

Venezuela Colombia Cucuta migrants refugee(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)A volunteer at a migrant shelter distributes lunch to Venezuelan migrants in Cucuta, Colombia, in February 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have escaped their country through that city.

Branson also said that he hopes his concert will open up Venezuela’s borders for international aid to come in, without specifying how that might work.

Maduro’s government has systematically blocked all US aid from entering his country, arguing that allowing access could lead to a US military invasion. He said on Monday that the US wants to “enslave us” with aid, according to the AP.

His concert on Saturday is on the same date Guaidó called on his Venezuelan supporters to bring aid from Colombia. Guaidó said that if Maduro’s concert disrupts his mission, he would keep trying on subsequent days, the AP said.

Maduro also said that his government would import 300 tons of aid from Russia, but did not give an exact date of arrival.

Read more:
The US sent a military plane full of soap, toothbrushes, and nutritional products to Colombia to help Venezuelan citizens – but Venezuela’s president won’t accept it

Branson expects up to 300,000 attendees at his concert, which will feature talent like Mexican band Mana, Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz, and Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra, the AP reported.

Spanish-French singer Manu Chao was previously reported to be joining, but the AP said on Tuesday that was no longer the case.

All of the singers set to perform come from countries that back Guaidó.

It’s not clear who will headline Maduro’s pop concert.

Guaidó called Maduro’s rival concert “desperate,” according to the AP.

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