Salsa Singer Lauded by Chavez Scolds Maduro on Venezuela Clashes

The Grammy-award winning salsa musician whose songs former President Hugo Chavez lauded as anthems of anti-imperialism says Venezuela’s self-declared socialist government has failed.

The Panamanian-born Ruben Blades, whose 1978 album Siembra with Willie Colon became the best-selling salsa album in history, has criticized President Nicolas Maduro’s handling of Venezuela’s economy and response to anti-government protests that are in their second week. His comments earned a rebuke from Maduro, who says the entertainer is misinformed.

“The government has failed monumentally,” Blades, who also acted in movies directed by Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson, wrote in a posting on his official website. Maduro “doesn’t appear to have enough clarity, wisdom and ability to direct such a complex country.”

Demonstrations that started Feb. 12 have left at least eight people dead and scores injured as police and supporters of Maduro clash with protesters marching against the world’s fastest inflation, shortages of basic goods and crime. Blades joined other pop singers such as Madonna and Cher in condemning the government response to unrest.

Maduro, who said he grew up singing Blades’ songs, said the singer’s views of Venezuela had been skewed by biased news reporting. The government revoked credentials for CNN’s main reporter in the country while Maduro last week took Colombian television channel NTN24 off the air following its coverage of the protests.

‘Good Soul’

“This time you got the lyrics wrong,” Maduro said in a speech about Blades. “If you want to get to know the true Venezuela, come and get to know the good soul of our people that is being assaulted by fascist groups.”

Maduro was elected in April by the narrowest margin in 45 years after his mentor Chavez died of an undisclosed type of cancer. He pledged to reduce crime and deepen the socialist revolution started by his predecessor in 1999.

Inflation has more than doubled in the past year to 56.3 percent in January while the central bank’s scarcity index rose to a record 28 percent, meaning that more than one in four basic goods was out of stock at any time.

Blades, who was a minister of tourism for Panama, sings songs full of anecdotes about poor people trying to make ends meet in Latin America’s shantytowns.

“Pablo Pueblo,” which tells the story of a working class man returning home from work disillusioned by political promises, became Blades’ campaign song when he unsuccessfully ran for president of Panama in 1994. In seven-hour long speeches, Chavez often sang songs by Blades, including “Plantacion Adentro” about the plight of indigenous Latin Americans enslaved by colonialists.

“Ruben Blades was a very important reference because his songs had progressive and anti-imperialist themes, so this represents a harsh blow to those who admired him,” Mario Villegas, a political commentator and journalist based in Venezuela, said by phone. “People on the left saw Ruben Blades as valuable in popular struggles.”

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