Cuenca craft fair artisans complain that highway closures hurt sales; Lahar recorded at Cotopaxi volcano; Local barrios organize against ‘vaccinators’

Apr 14, 2023 | 14 comments

Problems on area highways are keeping buyers away from Cuenca holiday craft fairs, artisans say. “All the landslides and closures are hurting the traffic from the coast, which is where many of our customers come from,” says Quito jeweler Paul Ortiz. “Cuenca always has the best craft fairs, attracting the most people but when the highways are blocked we don’t see as many people.”

Ortiz is one of many artisans voicing the same complaint. “With the numbers down, we are appealing to Cuencanos to come out to the fairs this weekend and support us,” Ortiz says. “These are hard times for all of us and we encourage people to visit the fairs.”

Hundreds of artisans are selling their work through the Cuenca foundation holiday weekend. (El Mercurio)

Craft fairs are set up in several locations around Cuenca today and will continue through Sunday, according to organizers. The largest are at the Plaza del Portal Artesanal at the corner of Simon Bolívar and Huayna Cápac; in the CIDAP courtyard on 3 de Noviembre at the bottom of the Hermano Miguel escalinata; and in Parque de la Madre.

Fair coordinators are aware of the hardship faced by artisans and say they are doing all they can to help. “Yes, it is very difficult for many of the artists,” says Mario López, who is organizing one of the fairs in Parque de la Madre. “The economy is bad and the transportation obstacles add injury to insult. The people who would normally come to Cuenca can’t get here.”

López is working with banks and cultural organizations in hopes of providing support for craftsman. “These are small business people who provide employment for others so it is important to have financial assistance available to keep them going,” he says. “Just as important, they are a critical part of Ecuador’s heritage and when we lose craftspeople, we are losing part of our history.”

Cuenca businesses organize against ‘vaccinators’
Several Cuenca neighborhoods have formed an alliance to fight extortionists demanding “protection money” from businesses. On Thursday night, more than a hundred members of the organization staged a march on the Pan American-south highway to demonstrate their solidarity.

“We are determined not to let the criminals do to Cuenca what they have done to Guayaquil,” said alliance leader Mateo. “We are meeting soon with the National Police, the Citizen Guard and the [Cuenca] Neighborhood Federation to form security networks and to express our resolve and stop the vaccinators.”

Flores and other leaders of the yet-unnamed alliance, say that cases of extortion are increasing, with small businesses being the primary target. “It is sad that these people go after little businesses and poor people and leave the big businesses alone. It is because we are the most vulnerable and the easiest to communicate with.”

Although many of the extortionists claim to be part of larger criminal gangs, police say most of them work individually or in pairs. “They sign their threats as Los Choneros and Los Tiguerones but those gangs are on the coast and do not operate here,” says former National Police Sergeant Vicente Rivera, who is advising the alliance. “By using the names of gangs, they scare people because everyone knows of the murders they commit in Guayaquil and Manta,” he says.

Lahar at Cotopaxi volcano is part of increased activity
A lahar triggered by increased activity at the Cotopaxi volcano caused no damage Tuesday night, Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute reports. An accumulation of rock, ash and ice descended approximately 1,200 meters (3,900 feet) down the western flank of the mountain and was contained within the limits of the Cotopaxi National Park, the institute said.

Geologist Patricia Mothes said activity at the volcano has shown a “small increase” since last week and that the yellow alert status remains in effect. “We are recording about 40 events a day, including earthquakes and explosions, and the activity is slightly elevated from recent weeks.” She added that gas and vapor emissions rise 1,000 to 2,000 meters above the crater on a daily basis, depending on wind speed. She adds that areas to the west of the volcano continue to experience episodes of light ashfall.

Mothes denied social media reports that a major eruption is imminent. “We monitor the volcano on a continuing basis and will provide updates if we see major changes, such as a rise in the magma level.”

She said the recent eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia, just north of Ecuador, could have a small effect on Cotopaxi. “Underground activities, such as eruptions and earthquakes, within a geographic area are interrelated so we are keeping an eye on Nevado del Ruiz as well,” she says.

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