PARAGUAY, María Fischer in conversation with Juan Vicente Ramírez •
“We are already getting to the last few supplies of food”, commented Juan Vicente Ramírez, Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce of Ciudad del Este, a member of the International Community of Schoenstatt Businesses and Executives (CIEES). “We have 4,500 food kits left for this month, and we’re done.” They end up not because he and the others have lost the desire to act in solidarity, but because they have already fulfilled their mission. “Now government assistance programs for the most needy have arrived. When I told him that during these almost two months, until the state aid arrived, they saved thousands of families in Ciudad del Este, he said that they simply did what one has to do when one sees a need, and that they are already with another urgency…—
The situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent protection measures is difficult all over the world, but especially in the poorest countries, such as Paraguay, and for families who live from a job they can no longer do. Paraguay has decreed a sanitary quarantine and maintains the closure of its borders with Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia to contain the spread of the coronavirus. However, in Ciudad del Este, located on the “triple border” between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, almost everyone lives from the flow of goods between the borders and their closure, explained Juan V. Ramírez, will mean the downfall of businesses in the area. He said that there are no immediate alternatives to save the situation, but that the implementation of a virtual sales platform is currently being analyzed.
“In 30 years that I have been here, there has never been a moment of crisis of this magnitude in Ciudad del Este and we are really worried, but we are seeing the possibilities that remain,” he said. “According to the indications that we have received from the government, the reopening of the borders is almost impossible until August or September. That would be the disappearance of Ciudad del Este, there is no way we can resist, and there is no formula for saving this”.
That is why the initiative to distribute food to those who lost their income overnight was so urgent. “In the condominium where I live we have distributed 2,000 kits in two months and in the Chamber of Commerce it would be a total of 15,000 kits. Now, he explains, the government is giving $90 to more than 1.2 million people and employees, a one-time unemployment benefit of $180, and now they are going to see if they can launch a second round of support. The experience that impressed Juan Ramírez the most, is that once called to action, hundreds of businessmen, who are also fighting for the survival of their companies, joined forces to go out and help those in need.
Now this distributing food solidarity campaign is over. But the solidarity action is not over yet.
After the closure of the borders, some 3,000 citizens repatriated from abroad arrived to Paraguay, mostly from Brazil, and were forced to comply with the sanitary quarantine in shelters. The Bridge of Friendship, which links Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) with Foz de Iguazú (Brazil) through the Paraná River, is filled daily with people seeking to return to Paraguayan territory. They are escaping the dangerous spread of the virus in Brazil, where more than 14,000 people have died and 200,000 have been infected, mostly in the state of Sao Paulo (54,329), where hundreds of Paraguayans work and live.
Of the fewer than 800 infected in Paraguay, 80% come from Brazil, specifically São Paulo, where many Paraguayans have been left unemployed because of the pandemic and are now seeking to return to their country but are not allowed to return. Juan Ramírez noticed that many people stay at the Bridge of Friendship, which connects and now separates Brazil and Paraguay, and spend the night there in the open air, in the rain and in low temperatures.
Thus, the great solidarity campaign of the Chamber of Commerce continues to give a hand, or concretely, a place to stay, to these people “from the bridge”. In a joint effort, they set up a warehouse with mattresses, tables, showers, food and everything else needed so that more than 200 people could stay there for the two weeks of quarantine. The next day the same scenario was experienced on the bridge, so they set up the Lebanese School as a shelter for 80 women and their children. As some people have health problems, such as diabetes, they also collected medicines for them. “We are doing everything we can so that all of us together can get out of this pandemic that is now hitting our city,” she said. “Once I have other social initiatives, I’ll let you know.”
Original Spanish 2020-05-17. Translated by María Aragón, Monterrey, México.