Power struggle turns to music with Venezuela Aid Live concert

A child holds a Venezuelan flag during the Venezuela Aid Live concert on the Colombian side of Tienditas International Bridge on the outskirts of Cucuta, Colombia.
(Fernando Vergara / Associated Press)

Venezuela’s power struggle was set to become a battle of the bands Friday when musicians demanding President Nicolas Maduro allow in humanitarian aid and those supporting his refusal were to sing in rival concerts on both sides of a border bridge where tons of donated food and medicine were stored.

The dueling concerts will set the stage for a showdown between Venezuela’s beleaguered government and opposition leaders who are pledging to draw masses of people to the country’s western border Saturday to try to usher in aid that Maduro has vowed not to accept into the country.

Clockwise from top left; Venezuelan singer "Chyno" performs during "Venezuela Aid Live" concert; thousands attend the "Venezuela Aid Live" concert at Tienditas International Bridge in Cucuta, Colombia; People with Venezuelan flags chant anti-government slogans on their way to the concert in Urena, Venezuela; Richard Branson organized the Venezuela Aid Live concert. (Raul Arboleda / AFP/Getty Images; Rodrigo Abd / Associated Press)

British billionaire Richard Branson is sponsoring a Live Aid-style concert featuring dozens of musicians including Latin American rock star Juanes on one side of the border crossing that Colombian officials have renamed the “Unity Bridge,” while Maduro’s socialist government is promising a three-day festival called Hands Off Venezuela on the other.

Several thousand people were already gathered in a large field three hours before the concert in Colombia was set to begin. As crowds wore white and carried Venezuelan flags, several uniformed officers on horseback and on foot stood guard near the border.

As Venezuela’s political turmoil drags on, allies of Juan Guaido, who is being recognized by more than 50 nations as the country’s rightful president, are hoping the massive concert and push for aid mark a turning point from which a transitional government can be consolidated. But Maduro has shown no signs of backing down, and analysts warn that whatever happens over the next two days may not yield a conclusive victory for either side.

Clockwise from top left: A woman heads to the Venezuela Aid Live concert with her family; others arrive for the concert on the Colombian side of the Tienditas International Bridge; concert-goers queue up; one attendee shows his stripes. (Rodrigo Abd / Fernando Vergara / Associated Press)

Similar to the 1985 Live Aid concert, which raised funds to relieve the Ethiopian famine, Branson has set a goal of raising $100 million within 60 days.

Friday’s concert won’t be the first time artists have turned to music amid simmering tensions at the restive Colombia-Venezuela border. A concert known as Paz Sin Fronteras — Peace Without Borders — was held in 2008 after a diplomatic flare-up that drew Venezuelan troops to the Colombia border. That event was held on the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, which 33,000 people now use to enter Colombia each day.