Venezuelans remain restless as political chaos affects their country and groups have been divided into supporters of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition. La Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) has become a microcosm for the nation’s situation as student groups confront one another within the university's walls. Last week, students of the opposition had planned to march from UCV to Petroléos de Venezuela in order to deliver a document that demanded solutions to economic issues.1 When the students could not leave due to picketing policemen, a conflict broke out between supporting and opposing students inside of the university. Masked students attacked others, managing to strip one student and forcing him to leave. It is unclear to which groups the individuals involved in the conflict belonged, suggesting that both are perhaps equally responsible for the violence. Journalist Jesús Alberto Medina Ezaine was able to catch this brutality on camera, exposing the conflicts that plague the UCV and symbolize the social unrest that resonates throughout the country.1
Although unfortunate, this incident has acted as a catalyst to inspire protestors. After the video was released, Ricardo Cie decided to reclaim nudity as a form of resistance rather than humiliation.2 He and sixteen others took nude photos as a way to peacefully protest the violence that has been occurring throughout Venezuela initiated by political chaos. Cie then compiled these photos using the hashtag #MejorDesnudosQue and #DesnudosConLaUCV. Over the weekend these hashtags began to trend and by Monday #MejorDesnudosQue reached 201,300 mentions on Twitter and #DesnudosConLaUCV reached 120,000.2
After Cie disseminated the photos, others started creating their own versions of nude protest. Samantha Llovera, one student from Carabobo, showed her support for the violated student by uploading her photo. She stated, “I think that the boy who they stripped should feel supported by all this. It was not only him who they stripped. It was all Venezuelans.”2 Many others showed their solidarity by participating in the online social movement.
This digital protest is part of a larger trend that has been occurring in Venezuela since opposition to Maduro first erupted. Although there is no official war being waged in this country, a digital battlefield has emerged. Both the support and opposition have made extensive use of various hashtags to unite their movement and show support for one another. It appears, however, that the opposition has been more inclined to use this medium to spread the word.3 A few other hashtags that have emerged from the protest are #lasalida, #PrayForVenezuela, and #SOSVenezuela. Those who support the government have used hashtags such as #VzlaUnidaContraElFascismo and #tropa, which is based on Chavism.
While some protest physically in Venezuela, others use the online universe to show their beliefs and support. Both sides of this conflict have been using social media in order to foster political change. The use of hashtags has also allowed for the issue to be heard internationally, creating support from foreigners who can connect through the online Twitter community. Although physical protest may be seen as a more effective method to create change, the digital movement can help strengthen the community of protesters in order to create the social change that they seek.
1) “El desnudo político que impacta a Venezuela.” BBC Mundo. BBC. 04 Apr. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/video_fotos/2014/04/140404_video_venezuela_caracas_universidad_violencia_pea.shtml
2) Cosoy, Natalio. “Venezuela: quién está detrás de la campaña de los desnudos en Twitter.” BBC Mundo. BBC. 07 Apr. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2014/04/140407_venezuela_desnudos_twitter.shtml
3) Pardo, Daniel. “Venezuela: la batalla de los hashtags en Twitter.” BBC Mundo. BBC. 22 Mar. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2014.http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2014/03/140321_venezuela_crisis_twitter_batalla_hastag_az.shtml