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Ecuador has a backlog of 1 million letters and parcels

smallIlvia Menezes She was excited when she ordered some curtains and other items on the website Wish. That was five years ago. Her package hasn’t arrived yet. The experience of Ms. Menezes, who runs a sandwich shop in Quito, is typical for Ecuador. For years, the national postal service, Correos del Ecuador, was slow and unreliable. During the epidemic, it was closed. Ecuador became one of the few countries without a postal service.

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Ecuadorians used to get mail a lot, and quite a lot. A converted whiskey barrel mailbox on the Galapagos Islands dates back to the 1700s as a way for sailors to exchange mail (now tourists use it, see photo). What is now the office of the Vice President of Ecuador was once the headquarters of the post office. Ms. Menezes recalled the joy of receiving a letter.

But the postal service never reaches all of Ecuador, which is home to dense jungles and suffocating mountains.Many households do not have addresses, and not everyone can afford them precious Box. Those who can see a drop in service. Due to constant budget cuts, fraud and exorbitant parcel taxes, Correos captured just 8% of Ecuador’s postal market in 2019 (the rest is owned by private companies). Its lackluster performance gave then-President Lenin Moreno an excuse to shut it down in May 2020.

Services still exist on paper. Mr. Moreno forgot that Ecuador is a member of the Universal Postal Union, United Nations Agency, and is bound by its conventions to facilitate the dispatch of international mail. So, in February 2021, just before leaving office, he signed a decree creating a new company. It currently has 84 employees and 24 vehicles, says its manager, Verónica Alcívar (Correos has 422 vehicles). It could scale up to 250 workers, but that seems unlikely. Instead, it contracted a Colombian company to ship a backlog of more than 1 million letters and packages.

Ecuadorians have other solutions. Unable to receive deliveries from the e-commerce giant Amazon, they turned to human “muses” to fly goods from the United States. “Christmas is the busiest time of year for us,” said a civil servant who also runs a successful mule business. He wished to remain anonymous for tax reasons.

Documentation is trickier. Students wishing to enroll in a foreign university have to pay a fortune to have their registration documents sent abroad. Not having postal service could have consequences. Historian Richard John said it served as “a backstop when other systems fail”, providing medicines, benefits or votes.

In the center of Quito, echoes of another way of life remain. Street vendor Blanca Guaraca flips through the postcards she sells to tourists. She recommends a post office where your correspondent can mail. It is now a bookstore. When a service is rarely used, it can be hard to know when it’s gone.

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