The long wait: Venezuelan violinist and resistance symbol seeks political asylum in U.S.

“It would be devastating if he came back to Venezuela,” said his father. “If he did, he’d go straight to prison.”

An opposition demonstrator plays the violin during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on May 24, 2017.Federico Parra / AFP – Getty Images

During the height of Venezuela’s fierce anti-government protests in the Spring of 2017, Wuilly Arteaga, 24, a self-taught violinist, rose to international fame by calmly playing the violin in the midst of the violent chaos.

Often sporting a jacket with the Venezuelan flag, the violin perched on his shoulder, Arteaga played classical tunes as national guards shot rubber bullets and threw tear gas towards him and other protesters during rallies that culminated in over 100 people killed.

Arteaga and his violin quickly became a symbol of resistance.

Videos of him playing went viral on social media, leading to news headlines around the world, and eventually, to the destruction of his violin by national guard troops.

He was thrown in prison where he says he was beaten by authorities.

“They would tell me I would be in prison for 30 years. I was afraid, but I would try to stay calm,” said Arteaga, who became one of the best-known faces of the protests.

After nearly a month in prison, he was released. He came to New York, where he plays the violin in subway stations. He collects about $100 an hour when he plays, a rare fortune among others like him.

Arteaga applied for political asylum. For now, he finds himself in limbo. He is free to express himself but is haunted by the uncertainty over whether his request will be approved in a process that can take years.

“I’m happy but I’m not going to be at ease until my asylum is approved,” he said.

Since 2015, over three million Venezuelans have fled what…

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