Thursday, November 13, 2008

(translation) The Chaos of Downtown Caracas has moved to Catia

First of the promised translations...already since returning I have noticed a discursive shift vis-á-vis the informal economy -- which likely outstrips the 'formal' one here -- in Caracas. Now dubbed the 'popular economy,' the mayor of Libertador, Freddy Bernal, has been spearheading projects to relocate informal workers (who clog many of the capital's thoroughfares, are often associated with petty crime, and who -- perhaps more importantly, are themselves the victims of extortion, insecurity and precariousness) to locations where services, amenities, and security are available. There have been, however and of course, been bumps in the road, as the following translation suggests.
A deeper question worth pondering of course is how to categorize the 'informal sector' or the 'popular economy' (whichever you prefer) vis-a-vis socialism in the 21st century. Do they represent the petty bourgeoisie (a social bloc that Chávez yesterday lambasted as inherently counter-revolutionary)? Are they simply victims of decades of petrol-driven maldevelopment? Are they entrepreneurs? Opportunists? Revolutionaries? While the Buhoneros clearly by and large come from the social bloc that has been the base of Chávez's support, the question remains -- to paraphrase Lenin -- whether their consciousness is fundamentally socialist, or fundamentally bourgeois.
Anyway, the article:

Fereira, Lorena (2008). Últimas Noticias 13 November, pg. 3

Caracas--The number of informal merchants that have taken up residence on Catia Boulevard has increased significantly in the last two months.
“Since the beginning of October, many aisles are full of people displaced from the city center who have become tired of waiting for their relocation and have decided to look for a small hole in the avenue [to reopen their businesses],” according to one informal worker.

Two months ago there were a few vacant stalls [in the area], but now they are full of occupants and merchandise. Apparently, they spaces were rented by informal merchants that left the city center.

December’s approach has increased the number of informal workers posted in the entrances and exits of the metro. One can see fruit vendors, telephone stalls, food sellers, and even Christmas items that are offered without any sort of control in the area.

Pedestrians are the only ones who complain. They note that, in an election season, “the informal merchants [make up the numbers necessary] to win, and no authority will threaten them for fear of losing votes.”

One group of informal merchants said that in the meetings they have had with government officials, they have been told that in January they will be able to leave their current places of business. “We want to leave here, but also that we can be put in dignified markets without the delay that has occurred with [Chavista mayor of the Libertador parish] Freddy Bernal.”

With the exodus of informal merchants from the center of the city, Catia has turned into a giant garbage heap. The boulevard has turned into giant difficulty, and what is more, full of sewage, since most of the drains are so full that the rain water has no where to go.

This situation caused traffic to come to a standstill in front of the Plaza Sucre metro station, where a full drain left a tremendous amount of water in the street.
Another grave problem is noise pollution, that has tormented those living in the area. This is because sellers of pirated CDs play their equipment at maximum volume. These locations are also favorites for pickpockets, who use the confusion caused by the loud music to surprise their victims.

Insecurity continues, despite the presence of members of the National Guard in plaza Pérez Bonalde. “The boulevard is very big, and they cannot cover the entire area,” commented one worker.

It is estimated that there are currently 3,500 informal merchants around Catia boulevard. Last year, the figure was around 3,000, according to Fundacaracas [an office of the mayor of Caracas concerned with monitoring and executing infrastructure and service projects]. The neighbors [in Catia] argue that the mayor of Libertador parish moved the problem of the informal economy from the center to this sector. “There was no planning, and the issue simply slipped through their hands,” commented a businessman who wished to remain anonymous.

Decree: In January of this year, the mayor of Libertador, Freddy Bernal, dislocated informal workers from the central zone and signed a decree prohibiting them from setting up their shops on Baralt, San Martín, Sucre de Catia, la Candelaria avenues as well as Sabana Grande boulevard. He did the same for Francisco Solano Lópe and la Casanova avenues.
The decree provided that, once finalized, the mayor would return to issue a new decree to provide permanence for those who make their livings in the informal economy.

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