SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – “We’re drivers. We need help for our communal kitchen,” read one sign help up at an intersection in this eastern metropolis, Bolivia’s largest.
Some motorists are persuaded to help and drop some coins or small bills in a plastic container set up at traffic islands or the side of the road by these workers, who are currently unemployed due to a coronavirus-triggered shutdown of public transport in this city of more than 1.5 million inhabitants.
Other messages such as “Communal kitchen, thank you everybody,” “We’re drivers, thank you everybody for your help” can be seen on other signs.
“We’ve taken to the streets to ask people, residents, users for help,” Marcelo Mamani, the executive secretary of the “New Hope” Salaried Drivers Union, which represents urban bus and mini-bus drivers, told EFE. “We have no income.”
These workers lack benefits such as health insurance and life insurance, the union leader said, and they therefore want guarantees that neither they nor their passengers will contract the coronavirus after public transport service resumes.
“We’re the first line of contact with users, so who will be responsible? The provincial government? The owners of the minibuses?” he asked.
“We’re not going back to work without the necessary guarantees from the owners’ sector and from the municipal government,” Mamani said. “We’d end up being infected with this invisible virus.”
The drivers continue to make that demand despite “numerous layoffs,” he said, noting that “many owners are letting their drivers go for the mere fact of taking to the street to ask for a bit of help.”
Santa Cruz, capital of the like-named department, is the Bolivian city hardest hit by the pandemic with 16,000 confirmed cases and 365 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
A total of 27,500 confirmed cases and 876 deaths from the virus have been tallied nationwide.
The country’s financial capital, Santa Cruz is among the Bolivian cities that have adopted strict measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But that metropolis is now looking at allowing a resumption of public transport service on July 1, since nearly 8,000 drivers of buses and trufis (shared taxis) have received no income since mobility restrictions were imposed more than three months ago.