Postgraduate Researcher, DEV, University of East Anglia
16th August 2013. Mérida, Venezuela
I wanted to write this partly to keep friends and family informed, partly with a view to perhaps being read by other researchers, and in part to begin to share information about what’s happening in this corner of Venezuela. I won’t write too much about my research theme, because I want to explain this to my participants in person, but some of you will already know my interests and no doubt my politics will show through. My key interest is grassroots experiences of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution- how normal people feel, think and talk about their communities.
At first it seems things have changed since I was here in January, two months before Chavez’s death and all the turmoil that followed. Perhaps the cacerolazo (pan-banging), house burnings, deadly street protests and the reported destabilisation attempts by the US and the Venezuelan right have exhausted everyone. I hear Capriles has been discredited by his call for violence following the elections and as a result the opposition are in disarray. Perhaps people are waiting to see what’s next. I am told the nationwide mayoral election campaigns in December are not expected to be contested as intensely as Venezuela has become accustomed to. The huge manifestacion I attended in Caracas, with the soviet-style air force fly-bys overhead and the sea of red shirts seems a long time ago. Much of the impassioned political graffiti has been painted over.
I arrived Friday after 21 hours travelling from London: walk, bus, bus, plane, plane, plane, taxi. So far everything has been comfortable. I am much better prepared than my first visit and know how not to do a few things, like changing money with police in the airport toilets. I am taking things very slowly, reconnecting with friends from my first visit and hopefully making new ones. I am still awaiting final permission to begin data collection. I wish I was official, having been advised how closely I match the profile for MI6. My recording equipment- button-hole microphone etc. – won’t help if I get picked up either. Apparently the CIA agents who got busted earlier in the year had a backstory that matches mine almost exactly…
I have taken some photos from a distance of Barrio Pueblo Nuevo, my likely main site. The good news is it looks so much more interesting than the rest of the city. It tumbles down into the valley that splits Merida down the middle, separated from the rest of the city both physically and by the types of streets and buildings. It has the classic barrio look seen all over Venezuela, but perhaps not often dropped straight into the centre of a city. I have been advised variously not to go into the barrio alone and am awaiting a meeting with a local resident, a friend of a friend, to give me some advice on how to proceed. The idea is to sound out the local voceros (spokesmen) to see how my project might be received and get a feel for options for accommodation etc.
Thanks to everyone for support and warm goodbyes. More soon.