Venezuela Field Diary: Bad dog, good results – Twelve weeks in the field

Harry Greatorex

Postgraduate Researcher, DEV, University of East Anglia

18th November 2013, Mérida, Venezuela

Came home from work to find a guilty-looking pooch and pieces of passport littered all over the hallway outside my room. Fortunately enough the Venezuelan permanently relaxed attitude has rubbed off on me and I saw the funny side. In the end it has proven a useful icebreaker in the two weeks since and meant meeting a lot of new people and finding some opportunities I might have missed otherwise.

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Fruit for sale at Centro Madre

First off, heading to Caracas to visit the embassy meant staying at the PROUT research institute. Definitely worth a visit to anyone in Caracas interested in a more spiritual take on socialism. The house in La Urbina overlooks Petare, the biggest barrio in Latin America but is one of those special places with an impenetrable ambience. Learning yoga and practising mediation on the balcony while the hustle and bustle of the barrio goes on a few hundred yards away is special enough to get everyone out of bed at 6 am. The centre is a hub for lefty researchers passing through, which means discussing the latest take on the Venezuelan process over breakfast and making plans to link up with more and more projects every minute. For anyone passing with similar interests I suggest visiting the PROUT website and getting in touch with Dada. I won’t do justice to the philosophy here but it is a collection of what seems like the best bits from Marxist-humanism with a broad capitalist critique that adds a spiritual emphasis to classic theories of alienation.

Felow PROUT Volunteer Carmen in Barlovento

With a new emergency passport in hand after what must be a record two hours (kind of an anti-climax), I head for the coast, visiting a PROUT cooperative on the coast that collaborates with Cuban agriculturalists to teach improved farming techniques in Barlovento. The farm at Centro Madre has everything: a worm farm, chickens, ducks, solar power, snakes, scorpions, a nursery for guayaba trees and more meditation which for me proves impossible with the bugs and heat. I last two days of (reasonably light) duties in the baking sun before sneaking off to the beach. In Playa Colorada I meet a trio of casual fishermen and women and we spend two nights out on the ocean fishing for brutal conga eels and delicious bug-eyed fish of various shapes and colours. All alone out to sea in the moonlight, we sing songs from our countries, swig some local rum and watch the phospherent trails in the water. Still counts as research as long as you talk politics a bit, surely?

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‘Beach Research’

I arrive back in Merida to streets swarming with bargain hunters. President Maduro has declared economic war on bourgeois shop-keepers and the National Guard are entering selected major stores to sell off hoarded and over-priced stock at fair prices. Queues (a favourite Venezuelan pass-time) snake around several blocks all day every day as people stock up on everything they couldn’t afford to buy at inflated prices the week before. I spend a day collecting interviews and trying to sneak photos without the National Guard spotting. See my article and lots more at Venzuela Analysis for some local insight.

National Guard busting prices

Back in the barrio life goes on as normal. Strangely, I only have three weeks left in Pueblo Nuevo then it’s off to Caracas once more to be an international observer at December’s municipal elections. The poll will likely serve as a test of the nation’s continued faith in Maduro following months of inflation on the one hand and some radical steps forward in dealing with corruption and Price speculation on the other.

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