Asuncion street vendors, Paraguay's informal economy in action

Asuncion, May 11 (EFE).- Money changers and car parkers, paperboys, vendors of fruit juice and handicrafts, soccer articles and herbs for the popular drink called "terere," populate the streets of Asuncion and represent the informal economy that allows hundreds of thousands of families to survive.

According to the Permanent Household Survey, Paraguay in 2011 had an economically active population of 3.2 million, with 5.6 percent unemployed and almost 708,000 people underemployed.

Migration to the cities in search of a better life has concentrated 40 percent of the 6.5 million Paraguayans in Asuncion and the surrounding metropolitan area, in whose streets new stalls, stores and informal businesses open every day.

Typical of the vendors who sell all kinds of herbs for "terere," the popular infusion in cold water that is a Paraguayan favorite, is Karina Pavon, 21, who has been on the same corner in Asuncion since she was 16, crushing mint leaves for her clients.

"My mom sat right here for 30 years," the young vendor told Efe, explaining proudly how she inherited the business and now gets up at 4 a.m. to go to the market so she can occupy her place on the street really early.

On a good day, working from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Pavon can earn 120,000 guaranis (some $28 at the current rate of exchange) above the minimum wage of 1.66 million guaranis (almost $400).

Antonia Martinez, 61, "opened" her stall in 1976 on busy Palma Street in downtown Asuncion, where she sells T-shirts, umbrellas and flags in the colors of Paraguay's top soccer teams.

At the noisy intersection of Palma and 14 de Mayo Streets near dozens of bars, restaurants and all kinds of stores, other regulars are to be found - the money changers.

Victor Martinez, 62, has spent almost 40 years working from a tall stool in his street office, uttering a single work discreetly to passing pedestrians: "Exchange."

Martinez offers better rates of exchange than the many banks and official exchange bureaus in the area, and earns up to 200,000 guaranis (some $48) a day, working 10 hours a day, Monday through Saturday.

When Victor and other street workers go home, out come the car parkers, who for a few hours own the public parking spaces near theaters, bars and discotheques where the better-off Paraguayans spend their leisure time.