A protester joining the thousands calling for an end to Venezuela’s socialist regime on Thursday approached an armed military vehicle wearing nothing but a knapsack and holding a Bible, demanding law enforcement stop attacking protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The man’s body sported countless wounds that appeared to be the product of a spray of rubber bullets, which continued as he climbed onto a military tank yelling, “stop throwing bombs,” referring to the tear gas canisters used against civilians.
“Please stop lobbing bombs, brother,” he repeatedly told the soldiers and members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB).
Videos of the man’s protest (warning: graphic) circulating on social media show him approaching authorities slowly, climbing on the tank and being immediately hit with a barrage of rubber bullets. Close-up images of the man show the book in his hand was, indeed, a Bible. On Thursday night, CNN quoted the man speaking to local media, stating that his rubber bullet wounds hurt less than the hunger facing Venezuela.
Venezuela is facing a severe food crisis following years of socialist mismanagement that has included strict price controls, rationing, and giving the military full control of the nation’s food supply. The average Venezuelan lost nearly 20 pounds in 2016 due to food shortages, and 15 percent of Venezuelans rely on eating industrial garbage to survive. Polls show a majority cannot secure three meals of food a day for themselves, with basic food items such as flour, vegetable oil, and milk in short supply.
Dictator Nicolás Maduro has blamed the shortages on the “economic war,” a term used to decribe a conspiracy theory in which the United States is attempting to weaken socialist Venezuela in order to execute an Iraq-style invasion on the country, and has arrested bakers unable to produce the quantities of bread the government has deemed appropriate on a daily basis.
The nude man protesting these food shortages has been identified by multiple unconfirmed reports as Hans Wuerich, a student at a university in the nation’s capital studying communications. Individuals writing on social media from Caracas who claim to know Wuerlich say he went temporarily missing following the incident Thursday but has since returned home.
Hans Wuerich se llama el pana, estudia en la USM y ya está a salvo en su casa.
En mi opinión la imagen del día, toda mi admiración. pic.twitter.com/nHhYct9ttD
— 🔸 (@antesdeabraham) April 21, 2017
Some have also questioned whether his nude protest was meant to be symbolic – showing just how unarmed Venezuela’s anti-socialist opposition is while Maduro promises free guns to up to one million chavistas – or by necessity, as some reports indicate police disrobed him as a means of silencing him.
Supporters have compared the man’s protest to that by an older woman on Wednesday who stood in the way of an armored tank, preventing it from moving forward and blocking the protesters’ path to city’s government buildings. That image, in turn, has been compared to the iconic image of an unknown protester blocking a tank during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Maduro responded to the man’s protest on a live national broadcast Thursday night where he called his protest a “show” and mocked him as “ridiculous.”
“What an ugly, terrible thing,” Maduro said. “A terror movie. All we can do is laugh.”
Maduro also made a homophobic joke at the man’s expense: “Good thing he didn’t drop some soap because then the photos really would have been detestable,” he chuckled. “‘Pick up the soap, son, for the photo,’ imagine how horrible that would have been!”
Maduro has a history of homophobic statements, running a vicious campaign against former presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski that largely relied on implying that Capriles had participated in gay orgies.
Capriles was an active participant in this week’s protests, beginning with the “mother of all protests” on Wednesday.
The governor of Miranda state, whom Maduro recently banned from public office for 15 years without cause, claimed that at least ten people died amid protests Thursday. Police confirmed 11 deaths in Caracas Thursday, many electrocuted by a falling wire and others shot to death.
Due to the socialist government’s ban on the legal ownership of firearms, only police and allies of the government possess guns.