San Salvador Mayor Launches Violent Attack on Vendors
Street vendors in San Salvador are still reeling from violent attacks launched against them by Norman Quijano, the right-wing San Salvador Mayor and presidential candidate for the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party. Late on the night of October 26, thousands of workers hired by Quijano’s office, together with 1000 municipal security agents in full riot gear, swept into San Salvador’s historic downtown with heavy machinery and bulldozed 970 vendor stalls across 33 city blocks. A bid to consolidate support from San Salvador’s conservative middle class and private business sector, the destruction and violent evictions represent the latest phase of Quijano’s aggressive campaign for the 2014 elections.
In the ensuing chaos, at least 15 vendors were injured, and at least 3 elderly vendors reportedly died from heart attacks resulting from shock. Anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 vendors were cleared from the city streets. The Ministry of Security and Ministry of Defense accompanied the eviction crews with police officers from the Anti-Gang Unit and the riot police as well as members of the Armed Forces.
Their livelihoods destroyed, the vulnerable vendor population now faces untold losses in property damage and stolen merchandise. With support from the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, several vendors filed formal charges with the Attorney General of the Republic against Mayor Quijano on October 30 for violations of due process.
The number of vendors in San Salvador’s downtown district began to grow in the 80s when the economic crisis caused by the Civil War pushed thousands to seek work in the informal sector. As unemployment and underemployment continued to rise as a result of neoliberal economic policies implemented by the four consecutive ARENA administrations (from 1989-2009), so did the vendor population. Today, vast sectors of the Salvadoran population rely on informal work to sustain themselves and their families; with the unemployment rate just below 7% and underemployment around 30%, as much as 56% of the population now works in the informal sector.
As San Salvador vendor Sandra Henríquez told a journalist from Upside Down World in 2009, “Street vending is a product of the injustices of the outgoing [ARENA] government that would not provide employment alternatives. Because there are no alternatives, many of our Salvadoran brothers and sisters have been forced to go to North America and Europe; others have had little choice but to sell items on the street to survive.”
Many of the city’s vendor associations do, in fact, support efforts to clean up downtown; they have reached out to Quijano’s administration and presented proposals that would organize and relocate vendor stalls while guaranteeing that vendors still have a way to support their families. Quijano has spurned negotiations with the vendor associations, refused to provide them with viable alternative sites, and made the forcible eviction of this precarious population a hallmark of his term. This latest move, however, was by far the most drastic and devastating of his administration.
The sudden wave of violence unleashed by Quijano on the San Salvador vendor population constitutes clear but shocking evidence of the extremes to which ARENA and its candidate are willing to go to unseat the FMLN in the February 2014 presidential elections, still 15 months away. The Salvadoran right-wing is ready and able to undercut its opposition by any means necessary, and to sacrifice poor and vulnerable sectors like street vendors in exchange for votes from the conservative middle class and support from the private business sector.
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