LA PAZ – Marching behind a banner emblazoned with the image of a presidential medal stolen in 2018 from an official vehicle parked outside a brothel, Bolivian sex workers made their way into the center of La Paz on Tuesday to demand a loosening of the coronavirus quarantine so they can go back to work.
The procession began in 12 de Octubre, a notorious red-light district in El Alto, a gritty industrial city about 21 kilometers (13 miles) from La Paz.
“We want to work legally in our locations, which are our source of work,” Viviana Gutierrez, representative of El Alto’s Association of Nocturnal Workers, told EFE.
March organizers decided to use the image of the stolen medal – returned within days of the theft – because the majority of the women taking part ply their trade in the 12 de Octubre neighborhood, she said.
The words “the presidential medal is ours” accompanied the likeness of the object on the banner.
Carrying red balloons, most of the women wore masks and some dressed entirely in red.
“Red represents us,” Gutierrez said. “It’s our symbol, because they say that we represent love.”
“We are hungry, we want to work,” the marchers chanted.
The lockdown imposed in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus has been really harmful to sex workers and many of them have turned to selling food and beverages on the street to earn a living, Gutierrez said.
“Some have been chased away by other vendors and there is nothing else to do but go back to this work,” she said, adding that women turned out of brothels who sought to sell their services on the street were “arrested and harassed” by police.
Sex workers say they are ready to comply with all of the government’s pandemic bio-security measures if they are allowed to resume working.
Another organization representing sex workers proposed a safety protocol to authorities, but have yet to receive a response.
The virus has claimed 7,054 lives in Bolivia and the number of confirmed cases stands at more than 121,000, according to official figures.
Bolivian officials eased some COVID-19 restrictions in July and permitted cinemas and restaurants in some cities to resume operations this month.
The August 2018 scandal over the theft of the presidential medal led to the firing of the general in command of the military unit attached to the president’s office.
The crime took place while the official vehicle driven by the army lieutenant transporting the regalia from a vault at the central bank to the office of the president for use in an Independence Day ceremony sat on the street in the 12 de Octubre neighborhood.
Less than 24 hours after the theft, an anonymous telephone call sent police to a church in La Paz where they found the missing items.