NEW YORK — A violinist who became the young face of anti-government protests in Venezuela may soon seek political asylum in the United States.
Wuilly Arteaga became well-known after playing somber renditions of Venezuela’s national anthem while standing amid clouds of tear gas. During one clash with security forces earlier this year, he and his violin were dragged to the ground and he was later thrown in jail, where he said he was beaten.
Now free, he performed Tuesday at Lincoln Center in New York at an event to draw attention to human rights abuses in Venezuela.
The 23-year-old said his priority is to find work in the U.S. rather than request asylum. But he said he doesn’t feel safe returning home because of death threats he*s received on social media and by phone following his outspoken criticism of President Nicolas Maduro.
“I’ll probably seek asylum but it’s not a decision I’ve made yet,” Arteaga told The Associated Press at the concert. “I’m nervous and worried. I don’t know what’s going to happen with my life.”
Dressed in a T-shirt and hat in the red, yellow and blue colors of the Venezuelan flag, Arteaga performed somber renditions of the classic folk standards that became anthems of the four-month protest movement. Projected on a screen behind him were scenes from the protests in which more than 120 people died and hundreds more were injured or jailed. Some of the images showed Arteaga, his face bloodied.
“I play the violin for peace, for freedom,” Arteaga told the Lincoln Center crowd.
Arteaga first picked up the violin growing up in the city of Valencia and was a member of Venezuela’s world-famous El Sistema network of youth orchestras and music schools. He dropped out after two years but continued studying on his own. About four years ago he moved to Caracas, busking for his meals by playing on the streets and outside stores.
He arrived in New York on Sunday with little means to support himself. He’s living now at a hotel paid for by the sponsors of Tuesday’s event but says he’ll soon have to start looking for work.