Wuilly Arteaga is a talented and inspiring young violinist from the city of Valencia—one of the poorest cities in Venezuela.
Wuilly taught himself to play the violin and eventually secured a place in one of Venezuela’s youth orchestras, where he played for a couple of years despite having no formal training.
As Venezuela has descended into an ongoing crisis this year, Wuilly’s contribution has been to play patriotic Venezuelan songs on the streets during the protests against the increasingly authoritarian Maduro regime.
These performances reflect an inner strength and determination that have inspired many in Venezuela, making Wuilly an international symbol of his nation’s fight for freedom.
Wuilly first came to international attention in late May when, in the middle of a protest, a National Guard member grabbed his violin out of his hands, broke the strings, and smashed the instrument in front of him. The video of that incident went viral and brought him to our attention as well.
Marjory Serrano, a Venezuelan-born classical violinist who had immigrated to America, also caught wind of the video. She was horrified by what she saw.
Shortly afterward, and quite unexpectedly, Marjory and Wuilly’s paths would cross in Washington, D.C. Wuilly had been brought to the United States by Robert Carmona-Borjas’s Arcadia Foundation to help draw attention to events in Venezuela.
To avoid drawing attention from authorities at the Caracas airport, Wuilly traveled without his violin and thus arrived in Washington without an instrument. Through mutual friends, Marjory was introduced to Wuilly and lent him one of her violins.
Wuilly used that violin during the whole of his stay—for performances, television interviews, and other appearances. She gave him a personal master class in technique while he was in Washington, and performed with him at an event in Georgetown.
He told Marjory at one point, “I love this violin!” Marjory responded, “Me, too—it is a fighter!”—a description Wuilly loved and which was fitting, given the role that it was playing in his fight for freedom in Venezuela.
Wuilly always remained optimistic about the future of his country, despite the dark period it is now going through. His love of country shone brightly, and he decided to return out of a sense of responsibility to the ongoing struggle there.
Unfortunately, all of the attention Wuilly received in the United States, particularly on television, angered Venezuela’s authoritarian rulers. His return home was fraught with danger.
Shortly after returning, Wuilly was playing in the street protests when National Guard member shot him in the face. The bullet came within inches of taking his eye.
Wuilly was brought to a hospital for treatment, where doctors told him to rest completely for at least 15 days. But within a day or so, his spirit irrepressible, he went back to the streets.
A few days after that, he was arrested and taken to a National Guard prison facility, where he has endured unspeakable torture and remains to this day. Wuilly has been struck on the head with his violin and now suffers hearing loss, his hair has been burned with lighters, and he is being denied medical treatment he desperately needs.
An NGO called Foro Penal has attempted to assist Wuilly, but the government has largely blocked them from helping.
The government is rigging the legal system against Wuilly—and against all of its political prisoners—to ensure that the government’s cases against them go unopposed.
Last Sunday, in a kangaroo-court secret hearing and without his own counsel, Wuilly was brought before Judge Pablo Verdú of the 31 st Control Court, who has an insidious record of persecuting political dissenters. Wuilly faced a handpicked government prosecutor, Yamileth Romero, who accused him of “inciting violence” and being “in possession of inflammatory substances.”
Clearly, the government is afraid of Wuilly and his violin.
Thankfully, Wuilly will be represented from here on by Omar Estacio, the formidable attorney who successfully wrested Caracas’s mayor, Antonio Ledezma, from the government’s grasp. But the fate of Wuilly’s case remains to be seen.
The political and humanitarian situation in Venezuela is growing dire. The country’s corrupt socialist government is determined to hold onto power at all costs, and has been violently suppressing all dissent.
As Wuilly’s story shows, the human cost is real, and it is growing. Yet Wuilly has won the hearts of many, both in Venezuela and in the United States.
Small in stature yet indomitable in spirit, Wuilly Arteaga symbolizes the determination of the Venezuelan people to resist government oppression and to endure torment in the fight for a better future.
Let us pray that they prevail.
Disclaimer: Paul Coyer, the author, is married to Marjory Serrano.