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  • Many of informal workers – women and men, some of them older adults, the disabled and even minors – offer products on the street without sanitary protection.

    Many of informal workers – women and men, some of them older adults, the disabled and even minors – offer products on the street without sanitary protection. | Photo: EFE

Published 18 March 2020

In Quito, just like in many others cities in Latin America, informal and mobile commerce will be the greatest collateral victims of the pandemic.

Indigenous women with their children in tow or Venezuelan migrants whose livelihood is as street vendors, cannot follow the measures adopted in Ecuador to tackle the novel coronavirus as they do not have other means of support.

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Among 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, meaning that 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 Ecuadorean 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.

Many of informal workers – 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 migration 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.

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“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 undocumented.

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.”

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