San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

City Officials Evict Informal Street Vendors

THE hundreds of carts piled withfruits and vegetables that have for nearly10 years colorfully cluttered the downtownsidewalks around San José’s MercadoCentral were cleared away early Mondaymorning – creating clear passage forpedestrians but pushing hundreds of unofficialbusiness owners outside the downtownarea.Using bulldozers and trucks, approximately600 police officers, immigrationofficers and Red Cross workers participatedin the pre-dawn eviction of more than450 street vendors, destroying their curbsidechinamos. The eviction is part of agreater municipal effort to clean up SanJosé and “return the streets to the citizens,”Mayor Johnny Araya said Monday in apress conference.THE mayor said one small groupshould not have greater rights to publicspace than millions of people.He championed the eviction as a steptoward cleaner, safer streets. The San JoséMunicipal Council gave the same reasonswhen members voted in March 2004 to endthe unofficial vending (TT, March 26, 2004).Vendors have fought the eviction since,saying they depend on the businesses fortheir livelihoods.WHEN the vendors arrived Mondaymorning to find their stands destroyed,they marched through the streets carryingvegetables, blasting Mayor Araya andstopping traffic.“We have to continue fighting. Ourenemy is Johnny Araya,” 44-year-old vendorMaría Durán. “What am I going to doin February when my children have toreturn to school? How will I feed them?”Durán’s concerns and those of hundredsof other vendors were addressed duringnegotiations Tuesday and Wednesday,mediated by Ombudsman José ManuelEchandi. After more than seven hours, themunicipality and the vendors came to anagreement.“It is favorable for everyone: for themunicipality, for the people walking thestreets, for the vendors who need to sell tosurvive,” said Gerardo Chacón, presidentof the Costa Rican Association of StreetVendors (ACOVA).THE most vulnerable vendors will berelocated to permanent posts within SanJosé. Those older than 60 will be givenpermits to set up their stands in otherplaces around town. In addition, 30 vendorsat the “greatest social disadvantage,”including those with handicaps and femaleheads of household, will be relocated totwo permanent markets within San José.The remaining vendors will sell theirfruit, vegetable and clothing in almost dailyfarmers’ markets in rotating locationsaround the metropolitan area.While this will provide temporary sustenance,Chacón said many vendors werehappy with the agreement only because themunicipality has also committed to providingthem a permanent place in a formerMinistry of Public Security building incentral San José, within six months.ONE group of approximately 45 vendorsdecided weeks ago they couldn’t waitfor help and instead set up shop in a rentedparking lot downtown, on Ave. 6 betweenCalle 6 and 8.“It is already a success. Everybody ishappy they can shop feeling safe, and theydon’t have to go as far,” said vendorEdgardo Castro Wednesday.The many shoppers walking the wideisles between stands echoed similar sentiments.“We have always shopped from (street)stands, but where they were before wasdangerous and it made San José dirty. Iwas born two blocks from here and manypeople have fled the city because it hasbecome so dirty in the last 15 years. Butthis, this is beautiful. Nobody is going torob you here,” said Deyania Parra over thenoise of a man using a bullhorn encouragingpeople to enter the market.WHILE an agreement has beenreached, Chacón said the vendors will notremove various legal complaints they havefiled – most recently Dec. 31 – with theGoicoechea Administrative Appeals Courtand the Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV), until a permanentmarket is opened.Mayor Araya said various decisions bythe courts in the past have determined themunicipality is responsible for the regulationof public space and that nobody hasthe sole right to public space.The vendors were given temporarypermission in 1996 to operate in the Zonade Tregua (Zone of Truce) – which spansAve. 1 from the Mercado Central to theCoca Cola bus stops, Calle 8 from Ave. 2to Ave. 8, small sections of Ave. 4 and Ave.6 and one block on Calle 13.

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