Once street sellers voice demands
For The Herald
BA City Once neighbourhood’s street sellers, headed by a Senegalese jewellery-peddler group, occupied yesterday Pueyrredón Avenue during a few hours to resist the eviction order issued by City Hall and demanded that local authorities sit at a table to negotiate with them instead of appealing to force.
“We are working legally, they can’t throw us out! Why don’t they come here to talk?”, cried out the street vendors.
“We want to work!”
But from local government offices, the only voice heard was Deputy Mayor María Eugenia Vidal, endorsing the security scheme.
“Street trade is allowed in the City provided it is not illegal merchandise. Otherwise, we are dealing with crime”, Mayor Mauricio Macri’s second-in-command publicly argued.
It was another episode in the running battle the ruling centre-right PRO party has maintained with street sellers since taking office in 2007.
Two years ago, on January, 2012, the battleground was downtown Florida pedestrian street, a traditional touristic and commercial stroll whose middle lane used to offer all types of goods —from clothing and paintings to pirated movies and CDs— at a remarkably lower price than nearby legal shops.
CAME (Argentine Confederation of Medium-sized Businesses) retailer association accused street sellers of unfair competition because they were unable to match their own prices to the almost tax-free level of street vendors and, therefore risked going bankrupt. And Macri’s administration stated that most of the merchandise sold in the street was illegal or, at least, of “dubious origin.”
Consequently, City Hall ordered the Metropolitan Police to clear them out. In some cases, mainly handicrafts selling-points, an alternative solution was presented to them by the Public Space Ministry for inspectors to resettle them in itinerant fairs throughout the City. But not everyone accepted it.
“I filed an injunction request to halt a City Hall order. They wanted me to work only on Wednesdays and weekends in different places. That didn’t meet my basic needs. I am a mother of four, I need to work every day”, artisan Ada Pérez from the Free Traders Movement told the Herald.
Since then, it was only a matter of time before City Hall started to focus on similar street-selling spots like Once.
Eviction or assault order?
Early in the morning yesterday, a BA City Metropolitan Police squad was deployed from Mitre street to Corrientes avenue, near the Once railhead terminal, and dismantled three “illegal marketplaces” on the sidewalk.
A large number CDs and clothes were seized on the grounds of violating BA City Trademarks Act.
It was City Hall’s second-largest security operation this week in Once but street sellers denounced Macri’s government has been putting pressure on them since last weekend.
On Wednesday, the same Senegalese traders group which protested yesterday had blocked Corrientes Avenue, one of the busiest roads heading downtown, accusing BA City’s security arm of “stealing” from them thousands of pesos in watches, gems and belts they work with while also taking their mobile phones and personal computers without further explanations.
“It was 5am and I was taking a shower, preparing for work, when suddenly I heard a lot of noise in the hallway,” Macodou Seye told state-run news agency Télam.
“When I opened the door, dressed only with a towel, I saw a gun pointing in my face”.
Senegalese immigrants carrying boxes full of colourful merchandises are a common scene in BA City streets. A large number of them relocated in Once neighbourhood once they were ejected from Florida street.
And so did other street vendors who crowded into Pueyrredón Avenue and nearby streets with their low-cost merchandise. For City Hall, they are part of a crime syndicate trading in stolen merchandise. And overpopulated streets also attract pick-pockets.
“When you face mobs, the State can’t surrender. We have been fighting this battle for so long and in all places —Florida, Constitución and Retiro neighbourhoods— you discover the same: its merchandise whose origin can’t be explained”, Vidal affirmed.