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A Barter Market in Times of Pandemic

Since the health emergency was declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the “exchange currency” used in this exchange center increased, with pre-hispanic reminders: firewood


A Barter Market in Times of Pandemic

July 16th, 2020

Santiago Tianguistenco, Edomex.- Micaela Hermenegildo delivered 120 sticks in exchange for a kilo of sugar. And although it was not a truly fair, the woman accepted the deal, aware of how difficult it is for low-income families to obtain food in these times of pandemic.

The non-monetary exchange of firewood for basic necessities is not something new for Micaela, who has attended the Tianguis del Trueque since she was a child, which takes place every Tuesday in Santiago Tianguistenco, a municipality in the state of Mexico.

On the other hand, for other people who have to resort to this pre-hispanic practice to carry out their livelihood at home, they repented, after being unemployed and without income, for the closure of factories and shops due to the health and economic crisis by COVID- 19.

And it is not for less since only from March to June 2020 more than a million formal jobs were lost in the country derived from the contingency, according to figures from the Mexican Institute of Social Security.

This was reflected in the Tianguistenco Market, which since early April presented crowding, wood oversupply, and food shortages, according to Ernestina Ortíz Peña, founder of the Indigenous Council of Barter.

"We are seeing a phenomenon, to even snatch things, people have been coming who have been bringing spoiled products, spoiled fruit and that is not right, because there are many people who are in great need, but they must be treated with dignity "He referred.

"The man who came to exchange fish brought him to a very dirty table, in a saucepan with dung, but we accepted it out of necessity," said Micaela.

Before the pandemic, about 250 people regularly attended barter, many of them from indigenous communities in the region, especially Tlahuicas, Nahuas, and Otomies.

Ernestina Ortíz calculated that the figure doubled the contingency algorithm, despite the risk of SARS-CoV-2 contagion, since in that municipality there are 147 positive cases and 19 deaths due to the new Coronavirus, until the cut of Tuesday, December 14, July, according to the report of the state Secretariat of Health.

In the Mexican entity, always governed by the PRI, 3.5 million people live with care for access to food and 1.5 million are vulnerable due to income, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval).

These conditions force Mexicans to find other ways to get ahead, such as Micaela, who has to climb the mountain, expose herself to loggers, dangerous animals, and Probosque workers, in order to collect dangerous "sticks" to get food.

That of Santiago Tianguistenco is one of the few exchanges that are preserved in the state of Mexico, along with Villa Cuauhtémoc in Otzolotepec, despite threats from the different municipal administrations to withdraw them.

Alma Rios


Translator: Martín Caballero

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