San Salvador looks a bit like a war-zone today after mayor and ARENA presidential candidate Norman Quijano deployed 1,000 police officers and 4,000 city employees to oust 970 vendors from 33 blocks in the downtown area.
When police and city workers showed up Friday with heavy machinery and began clearing the area, vendors fought back by setting up barriers and lighting fires. They were eventually removed, but not before 10 people were injured including 6 police officers. The mayor has asked for locals to be patient as 2,500 workers clean up the area, a process he expects to continue through Tuesday. He also estimates that the clean up will cost taxpayers a whopping $200,000!
Downtown El Salvador has been the home to an informal market for many years. Venders sell just about everything – food, clothing, videos and music, school supplies, hardware, and so much more.
Vendors did not have advanced notice of the removal and many lost all of their merchandise and other capital investments including refrigerators, jukeboxes, slot machines, video games, antennas, and much more. One vendor, who lost $10,000 worth of merchandise, told La Prensa Grafica, “they did not give us the opportunity. They arrived and threw us out and we lost all of our things. The mayor is responsible for everything.”
La Prensa Grafica noted that this was not the first action of its kind. Since 2009, the San Salvador municipal government has removed vendors from 167 blocks in the city in more than 31 interventions.
The mayor’s office says the vendors are able to move to a central market in the area where there are 623 stalls available for them to use. Of course that is not enough space to accommodate for the 970 vendors removed over the weekend.
This has been a complex issue for many years (downtown street vendors organized their first union in 1962) and there are some real issues, all of which stem from the systemic exclusion of people from the formal economy. Salvadorans without jobs can generate income by selling things on the street, generally to other poor people who can’t afford to shop in the formal economy. These informal markets are a bad deal all the way around. The street vendors lack the security, rights, and benefits that their counterparts in the formal sector have (or are supposed to have, but that’s another article). But they also don’t collect or pay taxes, which has been a point of contention for the international community (World Bank, IMF, U.S, and other). Many street vendors also violate international intellectual property laws by selling pirated movies, music, software, and clothing ($10 knockoff Ray Bans). Street venders also clog downtown streets, and if you’ve ever tried to take a bus through downtown on a Friday afternoon, you know how bad it can be.
Spending $200,000 to clear street vendors with bulldozers is in no way a sustainable solution to these problems. It doesn’t help venders get work in the formal sector and it definitely doesn’t mean low-income folks will all of a sudden start buying their blue jeans at Metro-Centro (a San Salvador shopping mall).
These evictions only mean that the poor have even fewer and fewer options – but that seems to be a global trend.
Here is a link to photos of the destruction.