QUITO – Indigenous women with their children in tow or Venezuelan immigrants who live as street vendors ignore the measures adopted in Ecuador to tackle the novel coronavirus as they do not have other means of support.
Despite the fact that the authorities have asked the population to remain in their homes unless it is essential to leave, and with more restrictions on the way, vendors are still present on the streets of Quito.
One of them is Jairo Arteaga, who offers a parking service arranged by the city council, and has to go out every day to look for cars that want to park on the street.
“One hour costs 40 cents for the car – 20 for the municipality and 20 for the supplier,” says the worker who is regulated by a council that has asked all employees to now telework.
But for Arteaga, there is no means to do this and his daily wage is threatened by a restriction of pedestrian and vehicular mobility which begins Tuesday. This will mean thousands of street vendors will be unable to sell their products normally.
Arteaga does not intend to stop working, but the reduced flow of traffic worries him.
“The measures affect me because there are not many cars, it is my only livelihood, this is the only way to sustain myself,” he says.
A few steps ahead, Galo Raul, a shoe polisher on Avenida Amazonas, who is one of the busiest roads in the Ecuadorian capital on any given day, remains seated while watching the few people pass by.
At noon, he had only managed to polish the shoes of two clients, a bad day in his work which depends on the offices in this sector located north of the city.
“Right now there are no people, it is up to us to beg God so that nothing happens and everything returns to normal. I have to pay rent, food and water,” laments the shoe shiner.
While in other latitudes that have been or are the epicenter of coronavirus outbreaks, homeless people are some of the most vulnerable. In this city, just like in so many others in Latin America, informal and mobile commerce – generally carried out by the most disadvantaged sectors such as indigenous people, migrants and people in poverty – will be the greatest collateral victims.
Many of them – women and men, some of them older adults, the disabled and even minors – offer products on the street without sanitary protection such as masks or gloves, and receive their money from those who these days dare to open the windows of the vehicle at the traffic light junction.
Elder Flores arrived recently from Venezuela. He has not been able to normalize his immigration situation and therefore it has been difficult for him to get a stable job.
He sells tequeños (fried flour dough filled with cheese) in the streets of Quito, an activity with which he supports his wife and daughters who wait for him every day to eat.
“I live day to day. The measures will affect me a lot because if I don’t work, I don’t eat. The gentleman of the lease will still charge me, I have to pay for all the services and my family has to eat every day and if I don’t go out, my daughters don’t eat,” adds Flores, who warns that he will continue going out to work despite the restrictions.
The president and legal representative of the Venezuelan Civil Association in Ecuador AC, Daniel Regalado, told EFE that more than 60 percent of Venezuelans in the country work informally, “without counting those who are in an irregular situation, who have not been recorded in the census.”
He estimates that there are 470,000 Venezuelans currently in the country, including those who have not registered in a census started in 2019 or those who have entered the country illegally.
But immigrants are not the only ones. Mercedes Almache is from Quito and for several years she has been selling sweets on the stairs of the Civil Registry headquarters.
She says that on Tuesday she will no longer go out to sell and is worried about how she can pay daily expenses.
“I live with a grandson and I must work for him. These days all we can do is wait in the house. Someone help me, because I have nothing but my candy stall. I have no one,” she says as she looks around to see if someone wants to buy from her.
Despite being over 60 years old, she says she is not afraid of the coronavirus: “I only ask God that nothing happens. I put alcohol on my hands and nothing else.”
According to the measures decreed by the government of Lenin Moreno, citizens must remain at home from this Monday and will only be able to leave for work, medical appointments, pharmacies, supermarkets or to take care of older adults.
In addition, commercial activities and the opening of establishments that bring together more than 30 people are suspended, with the exception of those that sell basic products, pharmaceuticals, orthopedics and telecommunications.
It remains to be seen how the most vulnerable and needy groups fare with the coronavirus restrictions in place.