CARACAS — Venezuela may be teetering on the edge of the abyss, but that hasn't stopped its embattled president from singing and dancing while the country crumbles around him.
On Tuesday, President Nicolas Maduro started hosting a new daily salsa show that highlights the country's “Caribbean culture” and what he calls the “profound soul of the people that the oligarchies will never be able to interpret.”
The show, called “the salsa hour,” mixes classic salsa music with political talk, interviews with government apparatchiks, and takes jabs at the “imperialist” foes of Venezuela's revolution.
“It's like a radio newspaper that dances,” the president said, as he sat down in a radio booth with his DJ headphones on. He opened the show by playing Indestructible, a 1973 classic by Nuyorican composer Ray Barreto.
Venezuela's socialist president, who is currently struggling to cope with his country's worst economic crisis ever, said he used to listen to 1960s brass bands during his early youth, but switched to salsa as he discovered the “struggles” of the working class.
“As I found the people, as I found the barrios, I found salsa,” he said. “Salsa and struggle have always gone together.”
Dressed in a turquoise guayabera, DJ Maduro capped off the show by dancing with his wife. Much of the show was aired on Venezuela's state-run television, which dutifully broadcast the musical spectacle to impoverished homes across the nation.
Venezuela is currently going through a prolonged economic crisis that has decimated wages and forced people to stand in long lines outside supermarkets for price-regulated products. Last week, thousands of people took to the streets to demand a referendum against the president and denounce a government they claim has become a dictatorship.
But Maduro has recently found a reason to give his dance steps new bounce.
On Tuesday, the country's fractured opposition announced it was delaying a congressional trial against the president, and has cancelled a massive march on the presidential palace that was scheduled to take place on Thursday.
Opposition leaders say that Vatican envoys who are mediating talks with the government have asked them to reduce tensions as political negotiations continue. The talks, which began last Sunday, led to the liberation of five low level political prisoners this week, though more than 100 opposition activists are still behind bars.
The opposition has also said that it is using talks to pressure the government to hold general elections next year, after government-controlled courts cancelled a recall referendum on president Maduro. But many Venezuelans don't trust the Vatican-brokered dialogue. For many it just seems like a ploy by the government to buy itself some more time.
“We have to keep up the pressure in the streets now that we have the support of the international community,” said Maria Corina Machado, an opposition leader who is not participating in the talks. “Dialogue is supposed to help us get rid of this dictatorship, not make it more stable.”
Maduro has responded to the momentary ceasefire by praising pro-dialogue opposition leaders, saying they made a “wise” decision that prevented a potential “spiral of violence.”
But last night, on the president's regular TV show, he again blasted the Voluntad Popular party for not backing the negotiations and continuing to call for street protest.
“They are a terrorist group,” Maduro said. He also called for the nation´s government controlled court system, to investigate one of the party´s main leaders.
Meanwhile, the president says he'll keep spinning the hits on his new daily salsa show.
“We will hold this show every day at noon,” he said on Tuesday. “I will be in and out, from wherever I am. From Saudi Arabia I'll connect. From Moscow, from Beijing or from Havana. Imagine all the good things you can show there,” Maduro said. “It's amazing!"
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.