San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Court Will Decide Fate of Street Vendors

AN administrative appeals court willdecide the fate of hundreds of curbsidevendors in San José and determine thefuture appearance of the capital’s streetsnear the Mercado Central.Until then, the vendors’ stands willcontinue to line Ave. 1 and Calle 8, givingshoppers a place to buy vegetables and theMunicipality a headache with concernsover crime and public access.The first hearing in the case is scheduledto begin next week.MORE than 400 vendors originallyfaced eviction June 18, following a decisionby the San José Municipal Council inMarch to end the unofficial vending.However, fear of protest and chaos in thestreets postponed the eviction until afterFather’s Day (TT, June 18).The eviction was again postponedMonday due to a petition filed by a vendors’association with the GoicoecheaAdministrative Appeals Court, where disputesbetween the government and individualsare resolved.Vendors celebrated the news Monday,and business was back to normal Tuesday.While Security Minister Rogelio Ramossaid 80% of the vendors had left voluntarilyover the weekend – agreeing to offers madeby the municipality – by Wednesday thesidewalks around the Mercado Central werenearly as crowded as they were for years.“It is a misinterpretation to say somany businesses left voluntarily,” saidGeovanny Jiménez, secretary general ofthe Coordination of Vendor Associations,which claims to represent 380 vendorsthrough five unions.“Many vendors just left to protecttheir stands. They didn’t want them takenaway by the police when the evictionhappened,” he said.ONLY 60-80 vendors actually agreedto the terms set by the municipality,according to Jiménez.These agreements include the establishmentof farmer’s markets in districtsaround San José like San Sebastián,Merced and La Uruca on Fridays andSaturdays, and in San José on Sunday.“We don’t eat every eight days, we needsomething from Monday to Friday, our kidsare in school Monday through Friday,” saidvendor Maria Durán in response to this offer.The municipality is also offering scholarshipsto vendors who wish to study othertrades at the National Training Institute.“We are not responsible for assuringhow they support themselves, but we havestill offered our help,” said San José MayorJohnny Araya Wednesday.IN 1996, officials gave the vendorstemporary permission to operate in theZona de Tregua (Zone of Truce) – whichspans Ave. 1 from the Central Market tothe Coca Cola bus stops, Calle 8 from 2 toAve. 8, small sections of Ave. 4 and Ave. 6and one block on Calle 13.Araya said in March the vendors areresponsible for spreading “chaos and anarchy”in the streets, block public access onsidewalks, and give San José a bad image(TT, March 26). The municipal vote toeject the vendors is part of the government’splan to “reactivate, regenerate andrepopulate” San José.The crowding of sidewalks and the largenumber of stands facilitates robberies, dayand night, Ramos agreed Wednesday.“Clean streets are a factor that helpspolice in the protection of people,” hesaid. “San José was a different city onMonday … Pedestrians could actuallywalk down the street.”MARTÍN González, administrator of acheese shop on Ave. 1, said the vendorshave been bad for business. His store wasoriginally a typical restaurant, but afterawhile the public did not want to come inand sit down at his soda.“There were people smoking marijuanaoutside, upstairs in the bathroom. Itmade people scared,” he said. “There aresome very hard-working people there, andthey deserve to work, but not in the street.”City officials say the sidewalks crowdedwith vendors create conditions favorablefor the sale of drugs.“Some sell crack and carrots at thesame time,” agreed San José residentWalter Ramírez, who believes San Joséwould be a safer city if the practice ofstreet vending were prohibited.But Jiménez argues robberies anddrugs are present in all areas of San José,and are not worse around the vendors.ARAYA said he is confident theGoicoechea court will decide in favor ofthe municipality.In the past, the vendors have filedinjunctions with the Constitutional Chamberof the Supreme Court (Sala IV), but theyhave been rejected on the grounds that themunicipality is responsible for the regulationof public space, according to Araya.

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