A line of white tents along the Plaza de la Cultura has caused controversy in recent days, with capital-dwellers complaining about the obstruction of a busy pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of the capital. After a series of inquiries, The Tico Times learned that vendor stations are a temporary fair organized by Hogar Crea, a nonprofit organization that offers drug treatment and rehabilitation services.
National Director Lindbergh Chacón told The Tico Times that the organization, having obtained the requisite permits from the Municipality of San José, sold spaces to vendors in order to raise funds to cover costs of its shelters for women, men, children and adolescents. It’s a model the organization has used in other municipalities around the country, Chacón added.
Mario Rugama Solís, a district director for Hogar Crea and the event coordinator, said that the “Entrepreneurial Fair No Drugs” began March 29 and will run until April 12, featuring products such as jewelry, cellphone accessories, clothing, perfume, raffles and food sales.
“We earn [money], people buy and leave happily,” vendor Roberto Segura told The Tico Times as people walked by the approximately 400 meters of tents. “There are special foods such as churros and chalupas. Everyone is happy. We’ve had a nice fair.”
But complaints have erupted on social media about the infringement of public space. Walking space on the busy downtown boulevard is already limited by a recently launched project to remodel the Plaza de la Cultura, an effort that is expected to last seven months.
Music promoter Fo Leon wrote on his Facebook page: “… the municipality had the brilliant idea to fill Avenida Central in front of the Plaza [de la Cultura] where ALL the foot traffic passes, which used to be spread out throughout the plaza, with these vendors…. IT IS CHAOS.”
Roberto Guzmán, director of ChepeCletas, which promotes biking in San José wrote on Facebook: “The complex formed by the Plaza de la Cultura, National Theater and Avenida Central is among the most valuable and transited public spaces in SJ and CR, and then to fill it with vendors for no purpose.”
It is unclear whether angry commenters knew the fair was a fundraiser; there is no sign indicating it as such at the fair.
Rugama said he had obtained all necessary permits from the Municipality of San José.
“We’ve got all the permits. We do absolutely everything that we are told by the Health Ministry and the permits given by San José’s municipality. We have the land use permit from the Municipal Council, … as soon as we received the land use permit, we went to the Health Ministry for the food permits and the permits to sell any type of product,” Rugama told The Tico Times.
Municipal officials were not immediately able to provide The Tico Times with information about the event.
“The Municipal Council approves so many things that I don’t know which event you’re talking about,” said Municipal Council President María Eugenia Rivera.
“At Hogares Crea we fight for the prevention and treatment of drug addiction,” Rugama said. “The program does not have enough budget, so we looked into this type of system. It’s an entrepreneurial fair in which both the sellers and we, Hogares Crea, have dividends. It’s symbiosis; we help them and they help us.”