Calle 13 vocalist Residente should study Victor Jara to help him distinguish between right and left more clearly.

Puerto Rican artist Residente recently released a powerful audio-visual response to Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’, highlighting the oppressive realities lived by millions across the continent rather than just in the USA.

[To watch the ‘This is Not America’ music video click here on see below]

Whilst Residente’s latest song accurately and poignantly captures the sentiment of protest and injustice throughout Latin America, he makes false equivalences. He insinuates that the left and the right are both oppressive systems, Venezuela’s flag appearing alongside the Brazilian, Colombian and Puerto Rican flags in his video. This nod to violent rightwing protesters in Venezuela exposes an unfortunate lack of political maturity. This political immaturity has led him to support rightwing and pro-imperialist mobilisations in Cuba, calling the socialist government ‘a dictatorship.’

Those who downplay these inconsistencies by suggesting that he is just an artist and not a politician should be reminded of the late, great Victor Jara’s example. Jara’s unwavering commitment to socialism and anti-imperialism – in other words, his loyalty to the oppressed – is his legacy to us. Residente should have studied the great Chilean communist in more depth before defacing his legacy with a scene intercalated by the glorification of Venezuelan guarimberos (violent anti-government protestors). Since Residente, for whatever reason, cannot distinguish the left from the right, a severe limitation considering his influence over many millions, it is our duty to do so.

Venezuela’s recent protests that Residente supports have been led by the country’s rightwing groups and have become known as guarimbas (meaning childish games). While these Western-backed and violently hostile groups blame President Nicolás Maduro’s policies for the economic crisis that has affected the country for almost a decade, more accurate analysis has demonstrated a combination of factors. The most serious among them has been US and European sanctions that have asphyxiated the country’s economy – or attempted to as it is now on the road to recovery.

Just like the longstanding economic war against Cuba, the sanctions have little to do with a preoccupation for human or democratic rights as is usually stated, but with a nefarious struggle to overthrow a democratically-elected government that does not bow down to capitalism and imperialism. Venezuela’s people have been punished because they dared to try a different path to neoliberal capitalism.

That’s not to say that one should unconditionally support the system or the government in Venezuela; one should recognise there are limitations and errors. It’s to say that these limitations and errors are part of an experiment mandated by the majority of people in that country. Regardless of the West and the right’s disinformation, the country has consistently voted for the current government.

For Residente to compare this project to the neocolonial systems of nations like Colombia and Brazil (or even worse, colonised Puerto Rico!) is to grossly misinterpret our region’s recent political trajectory. It ignores imperialist meddling, which is at the centre of this power struggle.

Furthermore, the term ‘left’, admittedly being a broad label, allows those who may defend the likes of Residente to point to centre-left and liberal projects that have often sided with capital and empire. However, let’s be clear; Venezuela and Cuba are neither of those. Residente’s likening of the left and the right is not some sophisticated critique of the shortfalls of liberal or centrist leftism, which would be welcomed, but an infantile critique of the most radical and transformative sectors of the left in our region.

Ironically, Víctor Jara was aware of these politically capricious characters and even dedicated the song ‘Ni chicha ni limonada’ to them. His stance on them was clear: ‘You, mister, are nothing. You’re neither chicha nor lemonade. All you do is put your fingers in all the pies, caramba samba! Where is your dignity!’

Rene, you must choose a side. Are you chicha or lemonade, mijo?