“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.

The excess of hard metal layers to protect power, in contrast with the frailty of bare skin.

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.

The next day, a small group of catholic nuns decided to take it back. They walked through the plaza singing out for justice. They left the soldiers perplexed. Were they to arrest these rebels? This wasn’t the sight of the “terrorist” groups the government adamantly blamed for the protests all day on television. Were they to tear gas them out?

As if our solutions could be willed by force. Is it not obvious that force has failed?

While the security forces demurred on how to handle the punk nuns, neighbours began to join in, and soon the plaza was filled with citizens, that is, people of all ages, and sizes, and walks of life. People occupying a public plaza to do what citizens are supposed to do: share in community their thoughts and feelings on communal life, which at that moment meant rejection of government abuse.

The security forces there were left facing a paradox: attack an unarmed crowd for nothing but showing their rejection of the government through chants, and hence underlining their brutality, or staying put and being dumbfounded by the power of citizen resistance to military power. Commanders did the smartest thing they could probably do by ordering the soldiers to leave.

It was a tiny moment of comfort amid the horror. An instant of citizen rule over authoritarian imposition. It took tons of bravery and defiance, but not force. The Generals would much prefer a furious youngster throwing a rock, rather than a large group of old ladies praying. The nuns were much more skillful players of the power game. They knew they had the upper hand.

Days ago, an older woman stood up in front of those same armoured personnel carriers. Her stance succeeded in much the same way. An old lady in front of an APC is something that the National Guard doesn’t know how to handle. I don’t mean to say that the military doesn’t prey on vulnerability. We have enough video footage to demonstrate that government doesn’t seem to mind ganging up on defenseless demonstrators and beating them to a pulp. But just as often, the photographed and video-recorded citizens standing up publicly with no power but their convictions has great force.

The Generals would much prefer a furious youngster throwing a rock, rather than a large group of old ladies praying.

I still remember the terrible evening of 2002 when a deranged man began shooting at the innocent people who were protesting in Plaza Altamira. Someone who I believe was never identified crept up behind his back and wrestled his gun away. He prevented many more deaths. No mention was made of the man. His action disappeared, crowded out by the news of the murderous lunatic. He was an anonymous citizen, bravely taking a stance in very dangerous circumstances.

In 2013, the Minister of Housing, Ricardo Molina met with his closest employees and announced that “I really don’t care what labor laws say. I won’t accept anybody coming here to talk down the revolution”, and he threatened to persecute and fire any sympathizers of the opposition while an adoring crowd cheered and screamed “así es que se gobierna.”

Someone filmed this display of abuse and leaked it to the public. An anonymous source. Someone who was very close to the minister that day, who probably knew the risks he or she was taking. A witch hunt probably ensued, in search of a traitor. The footage is an important piece of proof of the persecution public sector workers have endured.

Rojas Guardia goes on:

He escaped in the nude. Only nude could he escape the crowd, out for blood, the insomniac troop, the confusion of voices and shouting, the pushes, the insults, escape from the societal hour of the law looking for a transgressor, the eternal prisoner.

These episodes of anonymous defiance, of nudity confronting uniforms and ammunition, turn power upside down. The silhouette of the nude young man recalled the images of naked bodies running from napalm in Vietnam, or the lonely man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. It made one think of Auschwitz.

Maduro found it necessary to address the episode. He decided to mock him, trying to minimize his relevance, dispatch it as a mere spectacle. He made a joke about dropping the soap. The image of the nude man was now in front not only of tanks, but of the tasteless humor of an executioner. Maduro empowered the symbol.

The footage is an important piece of proof of the persecution public sector workers have endured.

It is a powerful image of civil resistance, of Nudity confronting armoured cars. They are poles apart: the excess of hard metal layers which protect power, in contrast with the frailty of bare skin.

Judith Butler, in her brilliant essay on the place of mourning in political processes, argues that awareness of vulnerability might be a key factor in opening space for the development of non-military solutions, “just as denial of this vulnerability through a fantasy of mastery can fuel the instruments of war.”

“We cannot, however, will away this vulnerability,” she tells us. “We must attend to it, even abide by it, as we begin to think about what politics might be implied by staying with the thought of corporeal vulnerability itself”.

Being nude, writes Rojas Guardia, is “an invitation to live another way, with fear and awe before the miracle of existing every day under heaven.”

We have suffered years of military solutions. We have militarized the economy, we have militarized security and a large part of the population continues to crave a military resolution. As if our solutions could be willed by force. Is it not obvious that force has failed? But force’s nature is to insist on forcing a way out.

“We were, and are, like him” writes Rojas Guardia musing on extreme psychological vulnerability, “thanks to a privileged suffering.” We are able, he says, “to see the world upside down.”

Civil resistance, the construction of a democracy guided by civil society, is different from the need for conquest; it is a recognition of the other through intimate awareness.

I have no idea how this will end. But I know for sure that that afternoon in Plaza Altamira, after the nuns defeated  the soldiers in their heavy war attire, was a moment of insight and joy. I believe that Hans Wuerich’s nude lunacy is a much more honorable expression of the country I yearn for than that of tacky military medals draped over protruding bellies and hanging on crusty uniforms.

21 COMMENTS

  1. You might be onto something here. Venezuela could find peace and prosperity by becoming the World’s largest clothing-optional resort.

  2. In all seriousness now, what an insightful write up Manuel. I encourage this type of rationale.
    After watching the footage of the armoured vehicle running over kids today near Altamira, I have no doubt the Venezuelan puppet state is bent on increasing violence and despair.

    Actions like Mr. Wuerich’s (a criollito -not name we need to learn to remember) , and the senior lady with the tank, and the nun squad you reference and many unknown ones of citizens keeping cool and defiant to the atrocities and provocations, are what is going to win this war.

    I am not saying violence is not going to be needed as well, but hay que bailar y mascar chicle together!

    Kudos venezuela. My prayers to the new victims of today.

  3. Also, the man that climbed on top of the tank in his BD suit earned shotgun blast to the back after the guards had “agreed to stop the repression”

  4. The epitome of civil resistance. Peaceful/non-violent marches, however, are being met with dictatorial mayhem. The Regime has been careful not to slaughter too many innocents at once to keep world public opinion from raging too strongly. But, the Colectivos are upping the ante, even with machine guns, and the GNB also, running over some protesters today, not to mention Maduro’s call today for his supporters (UBCH’s/some barrio dwellers/et.al.) to fight for his cause. Civilized governments generally treat unarmed marchers more civilly, but Venezuela’s rulers, run by their brutal puppet masters, are far from civilized….

      • To be fair, from another angle, it’s clear that the driver of that thing was facing a life threatening situation and was trying to get the hell out. I don’t think any militarised police officer in the third world would have reacted differently.

        In Chile at least, if you take over a street without permission you can expect a similar treatment to what you are seeing in Venezuela.

        True Chavista repression comes in the form of informal militias.

        • In the video the protesters charge against the soldiers, and then the tank rams in the middle of the crowd, there was no life-threatening situation there, unarmed people can’t kill armored thugs like that.

          Not even in Ecuador, nor Bolivia (The two other chavista countries in the continent) the army rams a crowd with a tank as if it was a battering ram.

        • No, I was in Chile under Pinochet, and they did horrible things, but running an armored vehicle over people, not as I remember. And those armored vehicles are really not going to burn from molotows or get a broken window from stones. Not one time in a million. But I think using molotows is potentially lethal, least for the police force with fire protecting suits, but for civilian people, same with stones. And they are of no use anyway. I would also stay with non-violent methods.

          • Pinochet was turning Chile into an economic miracle, rescuing it from communists who would have slaughtered millions without batting an eyelash.

            Maduro took over the toy company so that civilians could no longer purchase paint ball guns. Pink is my favorite color to use. Used it in bombitas well before anyone had thought of paintball guns. Works well. I’ve heard the GNB positively HATE going home pink.

            It would be hard to clean off a windshield covered with wire mesh like those tanquetas have. The ballenas could of course turn the water cannon on them. Make sure to get that on video! “GNB Turn Water Cannon On Themselves”.

            Of course you could always go with the all-time favorite: eggs. Oh, wait … you don’t have any eggs. We always had eggs. But we’re gringo capitalistas. We just wanted to be sure we had eggs for ourselves. We didn’t care about anybody else but ourselves. Turns out that chickens aren’t smart enough to lay eggs selectively, with labels on them. They lay eggs pretty much everywhere. If having eggs for ourselves meant everyone else would have eggs too, well then, everyone else had eggs too. That’s the way capitalism works, (darnit)! Like automobiles. The rich capitalist pigs wanted cars for themselves, and they got them. But a lot of people had to have them, because it turns out they don’t run well if there are no roads. So a lot of roads had to be built – on public property – for the capitalists to run their cars on. So that meant lots of people had to have them, too. So what if everyone else got them too? Who cares if the dirty poor got cars, too? Spillover effect. Inevitable. Capitalism isn’t perfect. We wanted eggs and cars just for ourselves, but couldn’t figure out a way to do that. We’ll keep working on it, but so far, all we’ve managed is bigger houses for ourselves – everyone else has houses, too, though.

            The socialists have figured out how to corner the markets better than the capitalists. Like, they have all the guns just for themselves, and they have all the political offices just for themselves. They can have eggs and cars even when nobody else has them. Chinese socialists even built empty cities, just for themselves! That’s not just bigger houses – that’s entire apartment buildings! With huge parking lots! Capitalists have to catch up to the socialists! But the thing is, that capitalists just don’t give a hoot about other people, how they live, or what they do, so we’re not losing sleep figuring out how the socialists do it. Sigh. I’m afraid we capitalists are just too stupid.

  5. In war, is important to choose the battlefield and not let the enemy do so.

    Pitying violence with violence is a losing game for the opposition and the civic forces of Venezuela; anybody can see the power difference (and the unrestricted willingness to use it) favors chavismo.

    For the same risk – being crushed violently as you dont have 1 millionth the power to defend yourself that they have to harm you), acts of acknowledgment of this, of “surrendering” to it while not surrending anything else are a win. They move the battlefield from actual battle, which they cant win, to morality. And that means the moment the regime strikes, they lose all excuses, all pretensions, and show themselves as they are.

    A guy throwing a molotov is a nuisance against the state forces, and a great opportunity for them to pretend to have the high moral ground and that there is really “terrorism”. A guy, naked, delivering himself to pain and not walking back in the face of it, or the lady against a rhino, is a completly different game in which the government cant win no matter what they do.

    Those are the real “bravo pueblo”. The one that in the face of sure pain and sure violence, keeps going on . The one that tells them that yes, they can do whatever they want to them, is in their power. Except being better Venezuelans than them.

    • ” A guy, naked, delivering himself to pain and not walking back in the face of it, or the lady against a rhino, is a completly different game in which the government cant win no matter what they do.”

      But in the heads of the guards, chucking a tear gas bomb to the lady’s face or spraying a shotgun blast to the naked dude’s back are ways to say “I’m still superior than you”

      • They are going to do the same against a guy with a rock or a guy with a molotov. The only hope is that enough people both in the armed forces and even inside Chavista organization will find it incresingly impossible to sustain the lies they tell themselves.
        Not a fan of Luisa, but the only way I can see is if more people like her start to find it increasingly impossible to live with whatever small, atrophied sense of conscience they still have.

  6. We are at war , even though it doenst have the conventional look of a war like those we read about in history, the war pits a well armed regime against an unarmed throng of street protesters , there are in fact two wars going on at the same time , one which manifests itself thru deeds of physical violence the other which is psychological in nature and which defines the kind of passions that will fester in peoples mind for a long time after the physical violence ends , and which ultimately will now or later have a decisive influence on the country’s fate………, you can physically throttle your opponent but if the spirit of resistence is there it will maintain itself alive ever ready to rise and express itself in acts of rebellion every time that it can …sooner or later that spirit will conquers the field and vanquish those who now make use of their armed might …….. !! The purpose of the marches and protests is not to reach XYZ destination and deliver a paper to some farsical authority , it is to keep that spirit of discontent afire , it is to make it become deeper and stronger with each confrontation ……..!!

    If the regime were smarter It should let those marches reach their destination , it would allow those papers to be recieved with overt courtesy , by fighting tooth and claw to prevent those protests from reaching their goals they only enbitter and heighten those masses passionate rejection of the regime and its agenda …….they are adding dynamite to a bomb that will explode if not now later , and blow them out of their seat of power.!!

    These protests did not ocurr in Cuba , they had never known true democracy or the values that people learn to cherish under it ……..that makes for a big difference !!

    • ” by fighting tooth and claw to prevent those protests from reaching their goals they only enbitter and heighten those masses passionate rejection of the regime and its agenda …….they are adding dynamite to a bomb that will explode if not now later , and blow them out of their seat of power.!! ”

      It’s because they’re using the same methods Chávez used to answer any protest that arose in his term since april 11: Give them a beating so they know their place, if they don’t get it, then kill some of them so the rest get scared and shut up.

      It’s also a matter of thought, Chávez thought that the only way to be respected was to show that he was a “rural macho revolutionary that solves his problems through violence, unlike those stupid fag whitey snobs from the middle class”

  7. My two cents. What happened with LL, whether he’s dead or alive, is reprisal for the US Senate Bill of yesterday. From Leopoldo Castillo’s tweet, they poisoned him

    Time is running out. Oppo needs to get entire country protesting while regimes intensifies repression. Their are a few wild cards and external actors that I will leave out for now.

    This is good vs evil. Rome sits on the sideline allowing itself to be manipulated. Suspect Pope Francis allowing other warring (U.S. vs Rome) to cloud him.

    On another level, the pathologies involved are severe. Images of them dancing remind there’s no cure.

    Washington was brilliant yesterday. A fact overshadowed by events in BRV. Outing Adan Chavez and Diosdado as narcos and capo bosses is next step.

    BRV is already known as hostage taker of innocent Americans by POTUS who has had multiple discussions regarding hostage Josh Holt and family.

    BRV treading on very thin ice. Yes they want conflict with America in the belief that the U.S. will not conduct a military invasion ever again.

    Old school miitary doctrine says invasion of Venezuela requires half a million troops. It’s not lost on everyone that all roads lead to military action. It’s all a matter of priorities.

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