Billionaire hopes music can ease tensions in South America

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British billionaire Richard Branson (C) is pictured before the "Venezuela Aid Live" concert which he organized to raise money for the Venezuelan relief effort, at Tienditas International Bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, on February 22, 2019. - Venezuela's political tug-of-war morphs into a battle of the bands on Friday, with dueling government and opposition pop concerts ahead of a weekend showdown over the entry of badly needed food and medical aid. (Photo by RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)(Getty Images)

Billionaire businessman Richard Branson says he hopes his Live Aid-inspired concert to raise funds for Venezuelans will persuade members of the country’s military to defy President Nicolas Maduro and allow humanitarian aid to cross the border.

Branson, who will host “Venezuela Aid Live” on Friday in the Colombian border town of Cucuta, said he is aiming to raise about $100 million to buy food and medicine, essential supplies for the country, which is gripped by a political and humanitarian crisis.

People attend the three-day pro-regime concert called by Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro to rival a charity music festival organized by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, on the Venezuelan side of the Tienditas International Bridge in Las Tienditas, near Ureña, on the border with Colombia, on February 22, 2019. (Photo by Juan BARRETO / AFP/Getty Images)

This aerial view taken from the Colombian side of Tienditas International Bridge at the border between Colombia and Venzuela, on February 22, 2019 shows the stage of “Venezuela Aid Live” concert, organized by British billionaire Richard Branson to raise money for the Venezuelan relief effort.  (Photo by Edinson ESTUPINAN / AFP/Getty Images)

The event will feature performances from more than 30 artists, according to the concert’s website. These include huge names in Latin America, like Colombian musical legends Carlos Vives, Juanes and reggaetón singer Maluma — all three of whom have collaborated with pop-star Shakira in the past.

Swedish DJ Alesso is also on the lineup, alongside Mexican rock band Mana, who have won seven Latin Grammys and four Grammys, and Spanish singer and songwriter Alejandro Sanz.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked a constitutional provision last month to declare himself acting president, has been working with a raft of global partners, including the United States, to bring aid into the country. Maduro has repeatedly refused assistance, leaving aid languishing on the border despite growing shortages.

Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, told CNN en Espanol on Thursday that he was asked to do the concert by Guaido, who traveled to Cucuta on Friday despite a travel ban imposed by a Venezuelan court. Guaido met with the presidents of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay at the event.

“He (Guaido) will be coming to the other side of the bridge with maybe a million of his supporters, and I suspect both of us, both sides, will be handing flowers to the military and the people guarding the bridge, and seeing whether they can be persuaded to do what they must realize is the right thing,” Branson said.

Maduro is planning to stage a rival concert on the other side of the Tienditas Bridge in Tachira, Venezuela.

Photos showed workers setting up scaffolding and stages some 1,000 feet from each other, separated only by the containers that the Venezuelan government has installed to block access to the country.

“We just want peace and tranquility,” Maduro said during a televised speech on Thursday.

Guaido left Caracas on Thursday with a group of lawmakers headed to the border to “welcome the humanitarian aid,” his spokesman, Edward Rodriguez, told CNN.

A convoy of buses carrying members of Venezuela’s National Assembly, who were traveling separately from Guaido, was blocked briefly en route to the border.

The opposition plans to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela on Saturday in a move that could prompt a showdown with authorities.

Maduro, who is facing growing calls to step down by the international community following his disputed re-election last year, denies that a humanitarian crisis exists in his country. He has suggested instead that aid efforts are part of a plot by the US to orchestrate a coup.

The beleaguered president said on Thursday that he had closed the border with Brazil and was considering shutting the Colombia border too ahead of the planned aid deliveries. Venezuela closed its maritime border with Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire and, in the western state of Falcon, stopped flights to and from those islands.

“We hope that Colombian President Ivan Duque won’t follow the orders of President Donald Trump to seek violence at the border,” Maduro said. “Is Trump the Commander in Chief of the Venezuelan Armed Forces? The answer is obvious. And the answer to imperialism is also obvious.”

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