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Street vendors up in arms in Caracas

By Veneconomy

President Chávez’ “nice” revolution has brought chaos, anarchy, and disorder to the streets of the country’s main cities. But, because of the size of its population, Caracas, the erstwhile celestial capital, lives in a state of perpetual congestion.

Evicting the street vendors from the city’s sidewalks is an endless business. This is a promise that Freddy Bernal, the Mayor of Libertador Municipality, is forever making but has never managed to make good, even with offers to relocate the street vendors. And finally, when it looked as though a decree would impose order on the chaos, differences between the street vendors themselves have, once again, aborted the Mayoralty of Caracas’ efforts to solve the problem, despite its attempts to enforce the new regulations.

At the start of the year, an agreement was reached whereby there would be one “day off” for the thousands of vendors who clutter the streets of Libertador Municipality, the areas near the Caracas Metro stations and the historical sites in downtown Caracas would be cleared of stalls, and only stands with a maximum height of two meters would be allowed, all in an attempt to bring a little peace and tranquility to downtown Caracas, Catia, and Sabana Grande.

Some street vendors claim that the agreement signed by their organizations’ representative does not reflect the wishes of the majority, and the truth is there are not a few who are unwilling to abide by the regulations. On Monday, after a number of similar incidents, street vendors in the Boulevard of Sabana Grande ignored the new rules once again.

Early in the morning, the Caracas Police moved the street vendors on, as they were apparently preventing the cleaning crews from doing their job. Accompanied by the National Guard with armored cars, the police detained one of the street vendors’ leaders and took him to police headquarters and also confiscated illegal merchandise, including copies of CDs and DVDs. The street vendors came out in protest at this measure, organizing a march and the closing of Avenida Casanova near Centro Comercial El Recreo, a situation that continued until late Monday afternoon.

It is worth remembering that the boom in street vending occurred shortly after Hugo Chávez took office, when he gave carte blanche to anyone wanting to set up a stall to do so wherever they wanted, justifying this by saying they had to sell to put food on the table. The fact is that, for Bernal, currently in the midst of his reelection campaign, this does not seem to be a good time to be implementing his idea of restoring order to the city. After all, once the barn door has been left open, getting all the animals back inside is no easy task.

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