Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro stood before the audience of his weekly “Los domingos con Maduro” (Sundays with Maduro) TV show this weekend and asked producers to turn on the music. Out rang the unmistakable guitar of “Despacito.”
But Maduro’s show wasn’t playing the original song, the massive worldwide hit that has dominated car radios, dance clubs and gyms across the globe for months. Instead, the lyrics had been changed to tout a scheduled July 30 election for a national constituent assembly that would effectively usurp power from the South American nation’s democratically elected legislature.
“Des-paaaa-ci-to, cast your ballot instead of bullets, go with your ideas always in peace and calm, and may hope shine in your soul,” sang the chorus.
On Maduro’s outdoor set, people rose, shimmied and clapped to the beat. The president himself, clad in a red button-down shirt, joined in, applauding and smiling broadly.
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“What do you think?” he said, more an exclamation than a question.
Not amused? The Puerto Rican artists who originally recorded the song, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. (A Spanglish version with Canadian star Justin Bieber came later.) Months of protests against Maduro in Venezuela have left more than 100 dead, according to the Organization of American States.
“At no point have I been consulted, nor have I authorized the use or the change of lyrics to ‘Despacito’ for political purposes, much less in the middle of the deplorable situation facing a country I love as much as Venezuela,” Fonsi wrote in a Spanish-language statement shared on his social-media accounts. “My music is for all of those who want to listen to it and enjoy it, not be used as propaganda that attempts to manipulate the will of a people screaming for its liberty and for a better future.”
“What can be expected of a person who has stolen the lives of so many young dreamers and of a people looking for a better future for their children?” Daddy Yankee said in a statement of his own. “You dictatorial regime is a mockery, not only for my Venezuelan brothers, but also for the whole world. With this nefarious marketing plan, you’ll only continue putting in evidence your fascist ideal that has killed hundreds of heroes and left more than 2,000 injured.”
Songwriter Erika Ender, of Panama, took the same stance.
“I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS,” she wrote on Instagram. “To see a song that I co-wrote be used without permission for publicity in campaigns tied to a regime that has a country unhappy and suffering, far from making me happy, makes me indignant, and I DO NOT APPROVE its use.”
Bieber has apparently not weighed in.