CURBSIDE vendors in San José are vowing to do everything in their power to overturn a recent decision by city officials aimed at ousting them from the sidewalks along several of the capital city’s main streets.
“We’ll fight!” vowed Cecilia Tercero, 42, a fresh fruit vendor working on Ave. 6, near Calle 4, in the central district of La Merced. “The livelihoods of 400 families depend on this. We’re working here. What we want to do is work without problems. We’re hardworking, honest people.”
Last week, the Municipal Council of San José voted to give informal street vendors three months to clear away all chinamos (street stands) in the Zona de Tregua (Zone of Truce) – an area spanning Ave. 1 from the Central Market to the Coca Cola bus stops, Calle 8 from Ave. 2 to Ave. 8, small sections of Ave. 4 and Ave. 6 and one block on Calle 13.
These areas were given that name in 1996 after city officials agreed to temporarily allow informal vendors to operate there.
According to the new decision, after the three months are up, police will be ordered to forcefully shut down all chinamos that remain open.
“WE consider it a reasonable length of time for them to individually or collectively come up with a strategy to relocate,” said San José Mayor Johnny Araya during a press conference March 17.
He accused the vendors of spreading “chaos and anarchy” in San José, and said they were responsible for “strangulating the sidewalks by leaving no room for pedestrians and forcing them onto the streets, creating conditions favorable to criminal actions and the sale of drugs, producing large amounts of garbage, giving San José a dirty image and polluting its scenery.”
Municipal authorities claim the 1996 agreement gives them the right to unilaterally revoke the concession when they see fit. Council members, who represent four different political affiliations, voted unanimously to impose the ban.
According to a survey conducted by the Metropolitan Police, approximately 440 informal street vendors are operating in these areas. That number does not include the permanent street vendors in those areas who have operating permits from the Municipality.
The decision to expel the informal curbside vendors is part of the municipal government’s plan to “reactivate, regenerate and repopulate” San José by transforming it into a place for residents and tourists to visit and shop.
ARAYA said the vendors obstruct access to formal commercial establishments, making it difficult for the latter to conduct business. This, he said, works against urban renewal in San José.
“What this does is make formal businesses – commerce, restaurants and hotels – leave the city,” he said.
The mayor pointed to a survey of city residents, conducted by the San JoséMunicipality Nov. 4-8, 2003, as proof the measure has popular support.
Out of a sample of 429 josefinos, 62% said they agreed the Municipality should “completely shut down” all informal street vendors. Another 19.8% said the situation with the vendors should be left as is, while 12.1% said the vendors should be relocated.
When asked if the municipality should use “extreme measures such as expelling illegal street vendors,” 58.7% said yes, and 38.5% said no.
“I applaud Don Johnny’s actions,” said Marta Mora, a resident of La Merced. “I, like many Costa Ricans, don’t own a car and have to use the sidewalks to get to work each morning. The vendors force pedestrians onto the streets.”
Mora called the vendors “vagabonds” and said they should “go to the country to pick coffee and cut sugarcane.”
VENDORS insist the chinamos are their only way of making a living and they will fight to ensure their livelihood.
The Costa Rican Association of Street Vendors last week announced it would file a complaint before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The group also plans to file an injunction before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), according to the daily La Nación.
“Every Costa Rican has the right to work – period!” said Fernando Hierro, 46, a vegetable vendor. “That’s what the Constitution says. They [municipal officials] don’t own the sidewalks. The sidewalks belong to all Costa Ricans.”
Hierro says a compromise between the vendors and the municipality is possible. However, the municipality must be willing to negotiate, he said.
VEGETABLE vendor Liliana Dixson, 39, said the municipality has refused to listen to vendors.
“I depend on this job,” she told The Tico Times on Tuesday. “I haven’t taken any courses so I can’t go look for a job in an office. Now, even to sweep streets they require a high-school degree.
“We’re asking the mayor to think this through,” she explained. “He has his family, he lives well. He’s not poor like us. He doesn’t have to be here day after day, under the sun and the rain, even when he’s sick. At the very least he needs to relocate us.”
Araya said the municipality will not assist vendors in relocating to other parts of the city, since previous efforts to do that in the 1970s and 1990s had a high cost and were unsuccessful because vendors kept returning to the areas where they had been removed.
STILL, Dixson feels her right to earn a decent living is being trampled by municipal officials.
“As a vendor of Ave. 6, I feel the municipality needs to let us work,” she said. “This is what our families depend on. I have three children that go to school.
“One of them is a 10-year-old girl with a small tumor in her head that needs treatment,” she explained. I sell vegetables and make the money I use to buy her medication. It’s hard to be told you can’t work. We’re all depressed, very sad. We will fight because we depend on this.”