Wuilly Arteaga said a Venezuelan officer used a lighter to burn his hair. He said he witnessed the sexual assault of a protester. He showed images of the injuries he suffered during two attacks. He was arrested, wounded, threatened and none of it stopped him from playing his violin.
The Venezuelan government ordered Arteaga to stop playing his violin at anti-government protests and to report to officials regularly. He accepted an invitation from The Human Rights Foundation to the Oslo Freedom Forum Tuesday in New York City.
Arteaga played at the Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center and was “received as a hero for his courage and willingness to use creative dissent to stand up to Nicolás Maduro’s cruelty,” Oslo Freedom Forum founder Thor Halvorssen said in a statement.
Arteaga flew to Riohacha, Colombia, and later to Bogotá to catch a flight to New York City. He told a Colombian reporter with El Tiempo that he was fleeing. He left his family and his friends. And like many other Venezuelans who were forced to leave, he said he doesn’t know when he will be able to come back to the country he loves.
His skin still had not healed and he said he was still dealing with some trauma.
“They beat me a lot when they caught me,” he told El Tiempo reporter in Spanish. “In fact, I was left deaf from this (right) ear after taking a hit that provoked an internal hemorrhage, but I am able to hear now. It’s not like before, but I can hear — Thank God.”
The 23-year-old classical musician started to play during the chaotic clashes in the streets of Caracas. While protesters, the military guard and riot police officers attacked each other, he played the national hymn and some of the songs Venezuelan grandparents listen to with nostalgia.
Unhappy with shortages of medicine and food, a triple-digit inflation and the socialist government’s repression of political opponents, student protesters returned tear gas canisters and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. They did everything they could to block streets.
Arteaga has said that although he was there to show his support, he never picked up anything other than his violin. He started to play after Armando Cañizales, a 17-year-old violinist who played with the Sinfónica Juvenil José Francisco del Castillo, died during a protest May 3.
While examining Cañizales’ body, a medical examiner found pellets, rubber and marbles used by riot police. His body still smelled like tear gas. Cañizales was the first student Arteaga cried for, but he wasn’t the last. Authorities linked 163 deaths to protest-related causes.
When the musician became the target of riot police officers who damaged his violin, his tears went viral. Arteaga’s resilience inspired the Cubans and Venezuelans in South Florida who were following the crisis.