Photographs of Venezuelan student Hans Wuerich have been circulating all over the internet. He has stood naked before armed thugs of the Venezuelan dictatorship and pleaded with them to stop their violent repression. This brave young man has chosen to fight the Cuban tyranny that has taken over his country with nothing else but his nude body.
It is not what anyone would call a conventional means of resistance to tyranny, but it certainly is a poignant one. It somehow manages to exhibit both the vulnerability and bravery of those who are willing to risk their lives for freedom.
Nudity, Military Power and Civil Resistance
“Who was that pale youngster who followed Jesus covered only by a thin sheet that night of sweat and blood, of unheard cries, of kisses of betrayal, torches and crowds, tunics and swords, a rumour of footsteps in the bushes, piled up shadows on the prowl, humiliation and arrest and, finally, the stubborn roosters of sunrise?
What unthinkable passion can guide someone to go out to face rejection and threats, under the universal indifference of the stars, dressed only in a solitary sheet?
Was there not fever in the mind of the young man?
Didn’t his presence here and his dress, obey a different consciousness from the ordinary…?”
Armando Rojas Guardia’s extraordinary poem The Nudity of the Madman came to mind recently as I saw the pictures of that skinny, quixotic body climbing on the armored personnel carrier and pleading with the National Guard to please stop the abuse.
Rojas Guardia writes of the extreme vulnerability of nudity as well as of its statement of poignant rebellion. Public nudity is a condition that will surely be scoffed at, that will spark amazement and scandal. A condition that underlines that he who chooses nudity states his absolute personal conviction, his utter indifference to social approval, his lack of need to appeal to any instrument of power. He needs only his belief to confront the trappings of force.
In the recent painful series of confrontations with an authoritarian government we’ve seen it all: from calls for mass violent revolt, to the barely concealed longing for a military pronouncement.
We’ve seen sober people celebrate young men throwing rocks at armed soldiers and, now and again, overpowering them. These images seem to fuel the fantasies of defeating an increasingly militarized state through force.
But we’ve also seen the opposite. It’s telling that it’s the nude young man who captured the country’s imagination, leading Maduro and many public chavistas to publicly belittle him, which was just another way of recognizing his impact.
His name is Hans Wuerich, but he’ll forever be remembered as the joven desnudo. He’s become a symbol of civil resistance. He follows a collection of largely anonymous citizens who have bravely taken a stance in Venezuela and defied authoritarian power with the only weapon they have: their consciousness.
The images recalled instances from years past. I was on the scene in 2014 the day after the Defense Minister ordered a raid of Plaza Altamira. He described the affair as a complex and sophisticated display of military logistics, second only to D-Day, to take over what had become the center of citizen protests. During the night, the Defense Minister strolled triumphantly through the plaza displaying on live tv his “recovered” territory. He proudly explained how his tanks had been able to overpower student rocks and the old lady’s pots and pans.
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