“The cry of the poor is not always just,
but if you don’t listen to it,
you will never know what justice is.”
― Howard Zinn
What does the aftermath of a global pandemic look like in a developing country? While I cannot attest to the conditions in all the developing countries, I can share a few observations and conditions in the city I live in — Cuenca, Ecuador, South America. Cuenca was founded in 1557 by Spain and has a metropolitan population of over 650,000.
A little background
Ecuador is country consisting of a relatively small class of ruling elites that have been in power for over 450 years. These elites also own the overwhelming majority of the businesses, property and other types of assets. Wealth is maintained in these elite families generation after generation through marriage.
There is also a blossoming middle class that are well-educated of which many are employed as professionals in the medical, technical and legal occupations.
Finally, the largest percentage of the population, by a huge majority, is poor. A person working in Ecuador typically earns around $1,360 USD per month. Salaries range from $340 USD (the lowest average) to $6,080 USD (the highest average, actual maximum salary is higher).
This class system has been visually apparent during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic because there are two health systems in the country:
All lockdown mitigation efforts have been made based on the “capacity” of the public health care system of which the poor and most of the middle class utilize for their health care because they cannot afford private insurance or medical care.
Those of us with private insurance for private healthcare have no problem at all in receiving world-class healthcare during this coronavirus pandemic. As an example, there has always been an adequate number of Intensive Care beds and ventilators in the private hospitals.
It is shamefully unfortunate that the quality of healthcare is significantly different between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”. This is a global reality that isn’t unique to Ecuador.
Conditions and Observations
Due to the novel coronavirus global pandemic, all non-essential businesses were forced (by law) to close from March 16 to June 1. Unlike most developed countries, Ecuador does not have any type of:
- Financial assistance for businesses — small or large.
- Unemployment benefits for employees.
- Stimulus payments to assist unemployed workers pay for rent, groceries, etc.
So, how did the working class survive for 10 weeks without any income? Primarily through mutual aid between family, friends and neighbors. The people of Ecuador are no strangers to hard times. They know that the only way people can get through the hard times is by helping one another with food and giving what they can in financial support. As an expat from the United States, I was amazed and touched how the spirit of community determined the actions of all.
Main Street Businesses
As of June 1, all businesses were allowed to open with strict safe-distancing and personal protective equipment mandates. However, there is a problem. Many businesses were unable to reopen due to not financially surviving the 10-week lockdown. At least 15% of the clothing retailers in the mall and in the center of the city have gone out of business. I know of at least three car dealers that went under. There are too many restaurants and bars to count that were financially unable to reopen.
Unfortunately, business failures are not over. As it turns out, no one is buying because no one has any money and if they are lucky to have a little money, they aren’t spending it because the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths is increasing in parts of the country and everyone is afraid of another total lockdown.
Prices are going through the roof. Many items at the grocery stores and pharmaceuticals have increased 15 to 25 percent. How does this work when many of their customers are already broke and out of work? With no other options, people go without.
My dentist told me today that he is lucky to have two appointments a day now. It has been this way since the pandemic lockdown on March 16. Most doctors, therapy and labs have reduced the number of staff members by half.
To top it all off, Ecuador is in the process of closing its postal service due to deep financial troubles. The post office in my city is already closed and chained up. The closures are not as critical here in Ecuador as would be in the United States, as an example. The postal service has been mainly used as a shipping service for small parcels and for expats to receive mail from their country of origin.
For the last five years or so, bills (invoices) for all utilities, annual auto registration and license fees, real estate tax, fines and other government fees have been available via email and/or their bank or financial cooperative. Consumers can pay for many government or private business invoices via their bank’s or financial cooperative’s website for a nominal fee of 50-cents or less.
Since I moved to Ecuador eight years ago, nearly all business communications are done via email, mobile messaging or courier service. With all the national package delivery services in the country, parcels and larger packages can be shipped and received with a lot less hassle than using the post office.
While the current circumstances appear to be bleak, I know we will get through this the same way the people have gotten through tough times before … by people helping people.
“When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation.”
— William J. Clinton
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