From Mark Swed at the Los Angeles Times:
Foreign visitors who stream into Caracas to observe El Sistema in action invariably leave Venezuela amazed. I am no exception, having tagged along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for its recent eight-day Caracas Mahler Project residency. Nor were the L.A. Phil musicians, having performed with and coached impressively aspiring younger Venezuelans.
So pervasive is El Sistema in this society that if you were to ask the average Venezuelan whether he or she thought classical music is dying, you might be questioned about what planet you are on. So strong is the Sistema lockbox that this program is equally supported by rich and poor, the political left and right. President Hugo Chávez allots it $100 million a year and regularly promises more. The opposition party knows better than to oppose music education in the upcoming fall election. For a reality check, imagine President Obama demanding a $1.2-billion music education system under the rubric of social welfare, only to be challenged by Ron Paul insisting that Congress allocate an even greater sum for socialized music.