Thursday, May 21, 2020

Raise the White Flag

El Salvador and neighboring Guatemala, two of the poorest countries in the Americas, have borne some of the strictest quarantine measures. Strict coronavirus lockdowns in Guatemala and El Salvador have so battered local economies that hundreds of families are flying white flags outside their homes or waving them in the street: not in surrender, but to seek food and assistance. In towns and villages across the two countries, hundreds of signs have gone up asking for food, and people have taken to the streets to wave white flags in distress. After Guatemala’s government erected the first sanitary cordon around the impoverished municipality of Patzun on April 5 to contain the virus, hundreds of cut-off residents began putting up rags and white cloths in a call for help. A color coding system has developed in Guatemala. Red flags indicate medicines are needed, black alert the police to violence, and yellow ones to attacks on children.

“We’re worried about the virus and food, because if the virus doesn’t kill us, hunger will,” said Jose Rodriguez, 69, a street vendor. “We desperately need things to eat.”

Ana Orellana and three neighbors put up a white flag and a sign asking for food on the graffiti-scrawled concrete boarding house they share in central San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.  Orellana, a street vendor of coffee, said that since the government ordered people to stay home in March, she has had no income to pay for food or the $75 monthly rent on the room she inhabits alone in the building. Now she takes turns with her neighbors to scavenge throwaway food at a city market. 

“I go looking through the bins where the rubbish is,” the 51-year-old said. 

Micaela Ventura, a 24-year-old shoe seller in Guatemala City, started using a flag about six weeks ago. 

“We put it out because we need food,” she said, “because we have nothing to give our children, and can’t pay for our room.”

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