Discord between government and street vendors
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
“We are not criminals. We just want to work,” say the street traders removed from the Jardín. “I want to start a three-year administration marked by legality,” stated Mayor Mauricio Trejo Pureco, in reference to the removal of five vendors from the Jardín. Although Mayor Trejo declared that in San Miguel the commercial sector is not a problem area, the street traders said that problems exist, and dialog between them and the government has broken down.
Government and street vendors through the years
In San Miguel there are more than 1,000 regularized and unregularized street traders, and the local government has intervened with them during several administrations. Over two decades ago there were vendors located at the Plaza Cívica, and during the 1992–1995 administration they were relocated to the tianguis area of the Ignacio Ramírez Market. The vendors from the Tuesday Market operated for many years on the streets of El Barrio de San Juan de Dios and also were moved to their current location on the road to Querétaro, during the 1995–1998 administration. Pepe Báez, who was coordinator of markets in the municipality in that time, told Atención that the relocation happened because of a gas leak; the mayor at that time, in order to ensure the safety of residents, customers and students at nearby schools, negotiated with vendors to relocate them. According to Baez, just one association resisted the relocation but later accepted. One Tuesday, when the relocation was in progress, classes in the three schools in the area were suspended because of possible confrontations between vendors and police. During the same administration, vendors who had been working for more than 50 years at the Portal de Guadalupe were removed. According to Baez, this was to improve the appearance of the historic center. César Hernández’s parents had a stand in that area and commented that they were relocated to the Calle Nueva del Parque (Nemesio Diez), later to the Plaza Cívica, and finally to the Andador Lucas Balderas but that their income has never been the same since then.
During the 2003–2006 administration vendors who had worked for more than 70 years on calle Juárez next to the San Francisco Church were also removed. César Hernández had a stand on that street and recalls that “the policemen surrounded the area and blocked the street; personnel from Public Services asked us to gather our wares because they were going to remove the stands, and they were carrying electric saws. They treated us as if we were criminals. We had to defend our patrimony, and that is when a confrontation began.” Dolores Vidargas, who was the coordinator of public relations of the administration at that time, said that everything was peaceful and there were no confrontations. Currently, a lawsuit is still in progress.
During the 2009–2012 administration disputes with vendors were limited, although they did occur. Luz María Hernández “La Chapis” said that she started selling tamales and atole when she was seven years old (19 years ago) in front of El Oratorio Church “and the business was a success and started growing. Currently 10 people receive a salary weekly from that stand.” Hernández commented that the permit that she had was verbal. In 2011 personnel from Public Services informed her that they could not install their stand there anymore because she did not have a permit, and talking with Mayor Luz María Núñez did not result in a solution. A lawsuit is underway. La Chapis commented that she has had support during this administration but they have offered to relocate her, a change she does not want, but she said, “I only want to work. I do not mind where, even if I have to start from zero and my income will not be the same.”
The Jardín vendors
None of the vendors working at the Jardín had a permit issued by the Dirección de Servicios Públicos (Public Services Department), and five of them were removed from that location. After a lawsuit was brought against the local government by the displaced vendors the municipality issued permits to the current vendors that were valid until December 31, 2012. The remaining street traders commented that they have talked with the director of Public Services and he has allowed them to keep working as normal. The decision to remove the five vendors, according to Trejo, was to regularize what they already have and make the merchants fulfill requirements. “The topic is security, legality and health,” commented the mayor. The vendors currently working around the Jardín Principal, as well as the five removed on October 12, 2012, have been there for more than 30 years.
According to Sara Hernández, one of the vendors removed when the current administration began, she started receiving documents stating that she was not meeting guidelines set forth in Article 21, parts I and II of the Market Regulations. Alí Patlán, legal coordinator of the administration, said that they summoned the vendors to city hall in order to fulfill some requirements (adaptations to their stalls so they could be in accordance with the urban image) but they did not have a permit. “For that reason we offered them relocation but they did not accept it and started a lawsuit against the administration.” The relocation, according to Patlán, would allow the vendors to select the place where they wanted to set up and then the municipality would analyze its viability. The lawsuit, according to Rosario Yépez, one of the affected vendors, was begun because the municipality removed them from el Centro on October 12, 2012, and did not allow them to work anymore. Later, only during the weekends, they were allowed to sell their products on Cuna de Allende, and at the end they could not even enter the Jardín. Yépez commented, “We are trying to get back our place. We are not problematic people but we are defending our right to keep working.”
In November the removed traders appealed to a state judge and received a document allowing them to work on the vía pública (street), but it did not clearly state that it included the Jardín. When they received that document they tried to reenter the historic center but personnel from public services blocked their way and confiscated their stalls, which were taken to the municipal parking lot. Trejo said that the document they had allowed the vendors to work on the vía pública “but it did not state in el centro” and that “they do not have permission to get into the historic center. Now it is a legal topic and if the judge rules that they can work in the historic center I will respect the law and there will be order, cleanliness and a good image.”
Julián Villela, director of Public Services, said that he is awaiting instructions from Mayor Trejo and made it clear that there won’t be more changes in the historic center. “The nine traders who got a permit from the department will keep working,” he said, adding that the topic of the permit is not legally defined because the municipal judge says that a receipt is the permit, and the state judge says that it is not. “We issue the permits and later they pay and get the receipt,” he said. Sara Hernández currently works in a kitchen in San Juan de Dios and other displaced vendors work with friends in the Jardín.
Former mayor Lucy Núñez commented that “it is not fair to take advantage of the citizens. If the administration has the intention of dignifying the image of the street vendors first we must know what they mean by “dignify.” In Querétaro the street trade was dignified and they were not removed from the historic center; they put up beautiful stands and keep the historic center alive. Sanmiguelenses love having a living downtown where the people can come, and now I am concerned that center is a restricted zone. Why? What is the argument? The historic center belongs to the sanmiguelenses and the vendors were there before Mayor Trejo’s arrival in the city. The stalls are not just for tourists, but also for sanmiguelenses.”
Candelaria Ríos said that the stalls are good because San Miguel’s main activity is tourism and pedestrians can buy things nearby and do not have to go far. She also said, “The vendors should not be removed; they just have to be dignified, and that is a duty of the administration.” Angélica Gonzélez said, “It is not fair to throw them out of the center after 30 years; they are a tradition now in the city.” Ofelia Espinosa commented, “It is good to take them out. Their products are very expensive, their service is horrible and their image is disgusting.” Juan José Ramírez remarked, “Their prices are like in Oxxo and the stalls are now part of the environment.” Raúl Puente said, “My neighbor is one of the affected vendors and he has been very sad, but the administration is doing good work and now the Jardín looks more beautiful.”