Although it seldom leads to violence, Cuenca’s informal street vendors complain bitterly that Venezuelan refugees begging on city streets are unfairly reducing their sales.
“It makes me very angry. I am out here every day selling products that people need and the Venezuelans do nothing but stick out their hands,” says Jorge Rabascall, who works the area around Parque Calderon. “Most of them are healthy and could so some kind of job but all they do is sit on the sidewalk and beg. They are lazy and they hurt the business of those of us who work for our money.”
The public often contributes to the problem, Rabascall says. “Yesterday, a lady wanted to pay half of what I was asking for face masks and when I told her I could only reduce the price by 25 percent she left and gave the money to the Venezuelans down the street and got nothing in return.”
It’s not just street vendors who complain about the Venezuelans. Juan Iglesias, who is handicapped and cannot walk, says the donations he receives near the cathedral have dropped by more than half in recent months, due to the pandemic and competition from Venezuelans. “There are Ecuadorians with disabilities who have collected money in El Centro for many years,” he says. “We depend on it to survive but the foreigners who are able-bodied are taking the money we once received. I understand that they have problems but they are competing with people like me who have no option.”
A complaint from both street vendors and Cuencano beggars is that the Venezuelans share or even rent children to appeal for money. “If you look at the parents, you notice they have different children on different days,” Rabascall says. “In my way of thinking, this is fraud and I’ve told the Citizen Guard but they don’t do anything except tell me to move.”
Iglesias does not buy the excuse of many Venezuelans that they beg because they are not allowed to work. “This is crap,” he says. “All of us on the street are informal, none of us work legally. These are strong, healthy people who could so something to earn money.”
Both Iglesias and Rabascall also say the refugees have access to services that they don’t. “They get free meals, free doctors and even a place to sleep,” says Rabascall. “I’m Ecuadorian and I get nothing.”
According to Cuenca’s Office of International Affairs, there are approximately 10,000 Venezuelan refugees living in the city.