Evicted vendors make noise at Mexico city hall

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 20, 2014 at 12:01 am •  Published: March 20, 2014
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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Boarding the Mexico City Metro once meant squeezing in with dozens of vendors hawking everything from anti-bacterial gel and Jolly Ranchers to a global CD selection. They hawked their wares with painfully loud speakers carried on their backs, sometimes alongside bizarre "street" performances: Shirtless, homeless men being walked on as they lay on a bed of broken glass; off-key singers so bad they ought to have been paid to stop.

It wasn't a subway ride. It was an adventure.

Now the system that ranks among the world's 10 largest, carrying more than 1.6 billion riders a year, is downright civilized by comparison since authorities started cracking down on the side show that was the Metro. Authorities of the Collective Transportation System started in December kicking vendors off some cars. As of Wednesday they were banned on all 12 lines and 162 stations.

"It's the way it's supposed to be," said Jaime Lemus, a rider from Mexico City. "It was horrible, people coming in and bothering people."

In response, several thousand informal vendors — no one has an exact count — have taken their loudspeakers to the streets and to city hall, marching to complain that the Mexico City government is removing their livelihood without providing an alternative. Some marched in balaclavas Wednesday, though it wasn't clear why they hid their identities.

The city has offered them 2,098-peso monthly stipends (nearly $160), requiring that they take employment retraining classes in a variety fields, from hotel work to massage therapy.

Vendors say it's not a real offer. Most are not interested in changing careers, and can make more than three times the stipend in a month. So far, more than 2,000 have registered to receive the stipends, but only 967 have enrolled in classes, according to the city's Secretary for Economic Development.

The city also has offered those kicked off the Metro alternative spots to sell legally.

"They're offering us locations where there are no people, places other merchants have abandoned because there are no people," said Juan Jose Hernandez Diaz, who has been selling on the Metro for 25 years. "We can't live on 500 pesos a week. I have a daughter in high school. Her expenses are 100 pesos a day."

Vendors have always been banned from selling in the subway. But in a quintessential combination that makes Mexico City, people who need jobs create their own, and authorities unevenly enforce the laws. It boils down to an economic struggle seen in many venues as recent administrations have tried to tame the chaotic city, home to 8 million residents but some 20 million in the greater metropolitan area.