The first big earthquake this month not only caused death and widespread destruction in Juchitán, Oaxaca, but also dealt a devastating blow to the town’s economy, leaving local residents worried about their future.
Considered the commercial center of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, Juchitán used to attract large numbers of both vendors and consumers from all over the surrounding area but after the 8.2-magnitude quake on September 7 there has been a significant downturn in the town’s economy.
The local leader of the business chamber Canaco says that thousands of people have been impacted by the decline.
“In Juchitán we have 1,800 established stores that generate some 6,000 direct jobs and another 10,000 in an indirect way. After the earthquake, some 64,000 people have suffered a serious impact on their income,” Juan Gilberto Prado Ramírez said.
Some business owners are making agreements with their employees to pay just half their normal salaries, Prado said.
“. . . The economy is broken. Very few sell and very few buy. There’s no money and the little they have saved has run out.”
More than 700 business premises were damaged, according to official statistics, meaning a large number of residents are confronted not only with the need to rebuild but also a huge reduction to their income or in some cases, no income at all.
“Since the earthquake happened we haven’t sold much,” said paint store owner Julio Catalán Reyes.
“Before we sold almost 10,000 pesos’ worth a day, now we barely sell 200 pesos.”
Not far from the paint store, Hugo López Bartolo had a stationery store that was severely damaged. While he managed to save some of the stock and reopen the business from home, his income hasn’t shown any signs of recovering.
“I don’t sell anything because there are no classes in school since the earthquake,” he said.
Cake seller Guadalupe Gómez is facing a similar situation.
“I go out to the streets to sell but I only see pain, I see people looking for food. I feel sad and overwhelmed because my house is damaged and I have no money,” she said.
Four of the town’s seven bank branches haven’t reopened since the quake struck.
Canaco’s Prado Ramírez said one option to get things moving again was to dip into a 65-million-peso fund created by a payment to the municipality by a local wind farm. He didn’t know how the money had been invested, but proposed that it be used as leverage for state and federal contributions to support businesses.
He suggested that for every peso contributed by the municipality the state put in three and the federal government four. “That’s the only way we can survive this crisis, by allocating those resources to businesses that have lost everything and those that are still standing but are at the point of having to close their doors forever.”
Meanwhile, financial aid is supposed to be forthcoming from the state next week. The Economy Secretariat has announced an initial allocation of 500 million pesos to initiate the economic reactivation of the region.
Secretary Jesús Rodríguez Socorro said 10,000 pesos would be given to each business affected in coordination with the National Entrepreneurship Institute, or Inadem.
The aid can’t come soon enough, judging by what local citizens have to say.
“The situation has become unsustainable,” Catalán Reyes said.
“If there is no support to revive the economy, we could have to declare bankruptcy.”