Ice cream sales a lifeline for Haitians in Caracas

Mon Mar 29, 2010 11:30am EDT
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By Charlie Devereux

CARACAS (Reuters Life!) - Emilton Amboise pounds the Caracas streets in the middle of a tropical heatwave, hoping to sell enough ice cream to send money home to family in Haiti.

Like so many, Amboise lost relatives in the January 12 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation and killed more than 200,000 people. "One of my sisters died and many cousins and friends too," he said.

Pushing a refrigerated cart full of Popsicles around the sweltering Venezuelan capital, Amboise estimates he can make around $300 a month, of which he sends $50 to his family -- the equivalent of about two weeks wages in Haiti.

"With the money I send to my family at least they can eat," he said.

The roughly 30,000-strong Haitian community in Venezuela have a near-monopoly on selling ice cream in the streets.

Martin Rangel, who manages a depot for ice cream brand Efe, said almost 70 percent of the vendors working for him are Haitian. The rest are immigrants too. "They can earn good money without having to invest in equipment," he said.

Rangel hands out carts full of ice cream to vendors who take a 26 percent commission on whatever they sell. Ice cream sellers can earn up to double the Venezuelan minimum wage, and as much as three times what they could earn back in Haiti.

That has attracted even educated Haitians like Kernizan Chrisnot, a 27-year-old from Port-au-Prince who spent four years studying law.   Continued...

<p>Haitian ice-cream vendor Gleis, waits for clients as he sits beside his cart on the boulevard of Catia in Caracas March 5, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins</p>