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COVID-19 and crisis force Venezuelans to sell at home


Food, cigarettes and candles are for sale behind the burglar bars of a private residence, where a couple calculates their sales from their bed in the Santa Rosalía neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, on Sunday, August 23, 2020.


Dioselis Bello had no alternative but to install her food cart in her home after the Venezuelan authorities banned her presence on the streets since March for the quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Before the restrictions, the streets of Santa Rosalía, a poor neighborhood in the center of Caracas, used to be very crowded and there were dozens of food carts that sold until close to dawn. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, some street vendors decided to settle inside their homes to remain active. Bello even expanded its menu and in addition to arepas it also offers hamburgers and soups, among other dishes.

In Venezuela, where most workers earn just $ 2.60 a month, many cannot afford to stop for a single day. Faced with the need to increase their income, street vendors have transformed their houses into makeshift take-out restaurants or retail stores, and others have been forced to undertake other activities alongside their formal jobs to survive the worst economic crisis in the history of Venezuela.

Next to Bello’s house, his neighbor Isabel Quevedo, 42, lived days of anguish when the clothing store where she worked closed its doors due to the pandemic. The woman, who lives alone with her grandson, then decided to sell sweets, bread, cigarettes and drinks from the window of her house.

Partly because most formal stores are closed long before dark, the young grandmother makes sales on a good day that earn her well above what she was paid at the store.

Venezuela’s minimum wage is the lowest in the region and clearly insufficient to cover basic needs. The poor majority of the country has a poor diet, according to figures from the UN World Food Program.

In an attempt to mitigate the effects of the hyperinflation that plagues the country, in May the monthly minimum wage was set at 400,000 bolivars, 1.30 dollars at the official exchange rate, which, added to a food bonus, brought the legal minimum wage to $ 2.60.

The Central Bank, which usually reports official figures late, reported that accumulated inflation between January and May was 295.9% and 2,296.6% year-on-year.

Since he’s been doing very well, Quevedo is considering not going back to his old job once the quarantine is lifted. “This is much more than the job I had despite the pandemic,” he told The Associated Press. “When the virus ends, I imagine there will be more possibilities for people to come and buy here.”

As after five in the afternoon everything is closed, her home store is an option for people who “want to have dinner with bread, because I close late,” acknowledged Quevedo, who is not concerned that the police force her to close your makeshift store. “Within my space the police cannot draw my attention. As long as I cover myself with the mask, I can have this sale inside my house ”.

Rosmer Díaz, a 28-year-old public employee, converted the garbage disposal site in the building where he lives – built by the socialist government under a state program – into a makeshift retail store.

The quarantine prompted Díaz to finalize the plan that had been maturing since before the quarantine due to his insufficient income in the public sector, where salaries below three minimum wages per month are common.

At the beginning of the recession that began six years ago, the inability of the majority of the people of Venezuela to obtain basic nutrients was caused by shortages. Now that supply has been largely regularized, the main cause is high prices.

Among the most expensive foods is onions, which in recent days have been sold at about $ 2.78 per kilo, double than a month ago.

Since March in Venezuela, there have been 40,338 cases of COVID-19 and 337 deaths, according to the Center for Science and Systems Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.