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For Mexican Street Vendors, Coronavirus Means A Huge Loss Of Income


Mexico's president says his government won't be bailing out banks or giving tax breaks to big businesses hurt by the coronavirus. Instead, he's promising to help the poor. NPR's Carrie Kahn went out on the streets and found the need is urgent.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Every morning around 7 a.m., Mario Alberto Martinez and his wife Ariana Castro set up their tiny food stand on a small median strip.


KAHN: At this usually-busy intersection in a tree-lined neighborhood near downtown Mexico City, the couple sells breakfast on the go - small sandwiches, sweet breads and hot coffee. Sales are plummeting.

ARIANA CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Castro says at the most this morning, they've had about 10 customers. Usually, they sell to more than 50 or 60.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Martinez says it's not just their stands suffering. He points across the street and says, over there was a woman who sold quesadillas. She hasn't showed up for days. And, he adds, neither has the guy who sells newspapers and shined shoes on the corner.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: If we don't work, we don't eat, he says. He's not afraid of contracting the virus. He's more worried about dying of hunger.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Police cars patrol the neighborhood, playing this message ordering residents off the streets. On April 1, the government ordered all non-essential businesses closed. While most have shut their doors, some street vendors managed to keep selling.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: This neighborhood favorite selling fried chicken sandwiches is still operating on a corner with a line of customers, very few with masks on and even fewer practicing safe distancing. Street vendors are just trying to survive, says Diana Sanchez Barrios, who leads an organization representing the sellers.

DIANA SANCHEZ BARRIOS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: It's going to get more difficult in Mexico City, where she says 1.3 million people sell on the streets and won't be able to stay in their homes for long. Many will have to go out and search for some way to make money. Ariana Castro, who sells breakfast fare in the intersection median, says that's what she'll have to do.

CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Maybe we can stay off the streets one or, at the most, two weeks, she says. But more than that will be impossible.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO SONG, "NO STRESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.