Documents on Mexican Politics.




                      John C. Cross, Ph.D.
                  American University in Cairo

                       For publication in:
                   Latin American Perspectives

                       (Revised, 3/14/95)

Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the help of David Lopez
in all aspects of the work leading to this paper, as well as many
other people in Mexico who opened up their hearts, offices, streets,
to me during for the research process. I also thank the UCLA Program
on Mexico and the National Science Foundation for small grants, and
the Fulbright and the Organization of American States scholarship
programs for financial support.

     The City of Mexico, at the center of the largest metropolitan
area in the world and plagued with many of the problems of rapid
urbanization in a developing country, has since the early 1980s been
struggling to deal with what city officials see as a problem of vast
proportions: the vibrant growth of an informal commercial sector
centered in the streets and sidewalks of the city. Whether due to
unemployment or the low salaries offered in "formal" work, about
200,000 individuals in the city were directly involved in the sale of
goods or services in the public right of way by 1993. During this
period officials attempted a series of legislative and administrative
programs to limit this growth with a singular lack of success
(e.g. DDF, 1990) until the construction of almost 40 market buildings,
housing approximately 10,000 vendors who sold in the "Historical
Center" of the city provided a partial, and possibly temporary,
solution to the problem in time for the 1994 elections.

     While this recent spate of construction seems to herald a
significant victory by the city against a social phenomena that had
appeared until recently to be completely intractable, it still leaves
95% of the city's vendors on the streets. And the ability of the city
to carry out its desire to implement similar mass construction
programs in other areas of the city will depend on the success of the
city's program in the "Historical Center"-- in particular, the degree
to which vendors will stay within the new market buildings rather than
moving to other areas or reinvading the same streets they occupied

     This paper will analyze the relationship between street vendors
and the state in Mexico City as a social movement of a marginal group
that uses the state's co-optative mechanisms to advance its own
interests. It is argued that the result is a movement that appears to
be controlled but which is substantially successful it achieving the
goals of its members: public space in which to make an honest living
in the context of a lack of alternative occupations. It is not the
point of this article to explain why people turn to street vending,
but rather to explain why it is politically possible do so in the face
of constant state antagonism, something that researchers of the
informal economy have consistently failed to adequately answer despite
the fact that the informal economic actors they study are in constant
conflict with state officials who often want nothing better than to
get rid of them--if they can.

     The ability of street vendors to escape the regulatory control of
the state on the scale mentioned above force us to reconsider the
"co-optation" theory of the relation between "marginal" political
actors such as street vendors and the state.  According to this
theory, political mobilization among the masses is thwarted by the
formation of government sponsored or coopted organizations, typically
led by authoritarian leaders, that fragment the movement by forcing
movement members to compete with each other for limited resources. At
the same time, the coopted organizations are affiliated with the
government party--in Mexico the Partido Revolucionario Institucional
(PRI)--in such a way that loyalty to the governing party is defined as
the only mechanism by which movement members may compete. But the
success of street vendors has occurred despite the fact that by all
objective criteria they are heavily coopted by the state. Almost all
vendors are members of associations that are themselves in almost all
cases affiliated with the PRI. The associations themselves are
typically led by authoritarian leaders who demand that their "members"
pay fees and support the PRI at rallies and at election time. And a
multiplicity of associations--well over 300 registered organizations
exist that claim from a dozen to over 10,000 members--compete
jealously for space and market zones, making cooperation between
vendors on a city-wide level impossible. All these factors, according
to traditional co- optation theory, should allow the state to control
vendors with relative ease.

     But yet the history of relations between the state and vendors
shows that control has been anything but easy. Vendors have defended
themselves from rare attempts to forcibly remove them from their
market areas with rocks and bottles, and usually succeeded.
"Negotiations" between officials and vendors drag on for months in
many cases, until either officials give up or the vendors (and their
leaders) are offered sufficiently promising alternative areas or other
benefits. An administrative order to cease licensing new vendors in
1984, repeated forcibly in 1985, appeared to have no effect whatsoever
as the number of vendors in the city more than doubled in the
following 6 years. Thus, the relevant question is: why has it been so
difficult for the city to control the growth of street vending up to

     In this paper I will argue that the very mechanisms by which the
political apparatus has attempted to coopt street vendors into the
political system in Mexico have given street vendors and particularly
their leaders the ability to continuously thwart the attempts of
administrative officials to control them. By only granting permits to
street vendors who form or join civil associations that are usually
affiliated with the governing political party, the
political-administrative apparatus has granted enormous power to
street vendor leaders who in many cases have become urban caciques.
These leaders are able to use their control of permits to compel their
members into activism on behalf of the association, thus overcoming
the "free-rider" problem of social movements by threatening to prevent
non- participators from selling in their area. Furthermore, the
interests of these leaders are often at odds with city officials
precisely because of the large number of competing organizations.  Not
only are their direct interests served by expanding the area and
number of vendors they control, which is the source of their income,
but they are also compelled to defend their members' interests because
the fragmentation of vendors into multiple competing associations
provides vendors with the option of leaving any association that fails
to do so. Thus, in a sense, street vendor leaders have become not only
political but also economic intermediaries between the city and
vendors, with an entrepreneurial incentive to constantly increase the
quantity and quality of market area they control.

     This situation has become more complex in recent years because of
the political opening in Mexico that has allowed opposition parties to
win some electoral positions in the Federal District as well as other
areas of the republic. While most street vendor associations have
continued to support the PRI, a few have broken away to support the
opposition Partido Revolucionario Democr tico (PRD), which was formed
after the 1988 elections around a group of political figures who broke
away from the PRI. The fact that these organizations can exist outside
the PRI does not necessarily mean that the PRI or the state is "losing
control" over street vending. On the contrary, the growth of street
vending was "out of control" long before the PRD was formed. But it
does suggest that street vendors are able to look for patrons outside
the PRI when this is convenient for them, despite attempts by
officials and PRI-affiliated groups to use their "disloyalty" against

     This paper will look at four cases of competition between groups
of street vendors in Mexico City to show how the structure of
"co-optation" undermines the administrative ability of the state to
control street vending. Three basic themes will be stressed. First,
that the system of clientelism provides a model of organizational
behavior for groups of vendors who are competing for commercial space
on the street. Secondly, that organized vendors can fairly easily find
"patrons" within the political system willing to support them in
exchange for the ability to mobilize vendors on their behalf. And,
finally, that the administrative practice of reinforcing the
authoritarian nature of street vendor organizations improves the
ability of those leaders to organize the resources of their members
for collective action both in direct defense of their commercial zones
as well as in providing services for their patron.

     While in each case city officials had stated policy goals to
limit vending and the desire and, presumably, the opportunity to take
advantage of the conflict between vendors to implement these goals,
they were unable to carry this policy out. On the contrary, in two of
the cases, and possibly a third, the number of vendors increased as a
direct result of state intervention.  Nor was this phenomena limited
to vendors affiliated with the PRI. In fact, the only group that
clearly lost out in any of these conflicts was a PRI-affiliated group
of vendors competing with vendors affiliated with an opposition party
for control of a vendor association.


     Only recently has the political nature of informal economic
activity (IEA) been recognized (Sanyal, 1991), although to some degree
it was always implied by the definition of IEA as economic activity
that escaped state regulatory control. While land invasion has long
been recognized as inherently political (eg Cornelius, 1975), the
political nature of informal commerce (street vending) and informal
transport (collective taxis) have not been studied carefully despite
the recognition that such activities could lead to political activism
(Bromley, 1978; McGee, 1975; De Soto, 1989. Also see Birbeck
(1978:1183) regarding garbage pickers). Yet street vendors and
collective taxis have much the same relation to the state as land
invaders-- they aim to gain access to a public or privately controlled
good through frequently "inappropriate" (viz--illegal) means. Land
invaders wish to take over a piece of public or private land that has
not been authorized for sale or subdivision. Likewise, the street
vendor and collective taxi driver want to take over the street, or to
use it for trade, and frequently also to avoid taxes and regulations
that push up costs for formal business.

     Sanyal argues, however, that street vendors are limited in their
ability to mobilize effectively because of the high degree of
competition between them for space and customers. Another recent study
on the politics of street vending from a feminist perspective
(Spaiter-Roth, 1988) also argued that street vendors are by nature too
"individualistic" to organize effectively. It could be argued however
that, in the context of enforced organization and "co-optation",
competition within organized groups of vendors can be regulated by the
street vendor associations themselves, while one argument of this
paper is that competition between associations actually helps weaken
the government's ability to control them as a whole.


     The relations between ruling or mainstream political parties and
"marginal" groups such as street vendors have typically been described
as one of co-optation or clientelism by most studies of this
phenomena--particularly in the developing world. The concept is
typically defined in the following way:

     "Clientelism refers to the structuring of political power
     through networks of informal dyadic relations that link
     individuals of unequal power in relationships of exchange.
     In clientelistic structures of authority, power is vested in
     the top individual (the boss, sovereign, or head of clan)
     who personally decides how to distribute resources according
     to personal preferences. When applied to Mexico, this
     perspective represents the state as a top-down pyramid
     headed by the chief of the executive branch, who directly or
     indirectly dispenses favors to those below through complex
     patron-client relations that link the top of the social
     structure to the base. Civil society, in contrast, is
     perceived as a fragmented set of vertical relationships
     inhibiting the formation of horizontal interest groupings,
     whether based on party or social class..." (Brachet-Marquez,

     Cornelius' (1975) study of the political behavior of residents of
squatter settlements in Mexico City shows how clientelism operates at
the grass-roots level. Cornelius found that residents of squatter
areas that wanted to legalize their "de facto" tenancy of land and to
obtain public services such as paving, water, electricity, schools,
etc., would organize in groups and stage rallies at PRI and city
offices, typically espousing strong support for the PRI and key
officials at the offices.

     Most scholars see clientelism in Mexico as a form of social
control that the PRI/state apparatus uses to co-opt social movements
and to further its own interests. Brachet-Marquez (1992:98) notes,
"The inclusionary nature of Mexico's Regime, rather than opening up
the power structure to the masses, has been interpreted as co-opting
popular leaders and thereby depriving the grass roots of the capacity
to voice grievances".

     Eckstein (1977) argues that the state has largely been able to
control popular movements by controlling their forms of organization
and their demands by incorporating them into the PRI. Coppedge (1993)
also argues that the PRI has perfected mechanisms for controlling
"popular" organizations by distributing resources to favored leaders
of those organizations when their leadership is threatened by
dissident groups, or promoting new leaders when established leaders
become too independent. He adds:

     "... If an organization started to move into opposition, the
     PRI or the government would divide it, co-opt one half, and
     repress the other. In the colonia (neighborhood), for
     example, if a leader embarrassed the government, he might
     simply find that government officials were no longer
     responsive to his petitions for the community and at the
     same time find that one of his clients was becoming
     increasingly critical of him for not 'delivering the goods.'
     Soon, his movement would be split between his supporters and
     those who sided with the critical client, and eventually the
     former client would replace him as the new cacique.
     Naturally, the new leader was being encouraged in his
     boldness by the PRI all along, and after winning some
     benefits for the community to consolidate his position, he
     would turn out to be no more effective than his
     predecessor." (265)

     One problem with this argument is the tendency to project the
PRI-state apparatus or its equivalent in other countries as a coherent
and unified actor with respect to the caciques. That is, it tends to
ignore conflict within the state itself over the distribution of
resources. Research by Camp (1980; 1990) and Smith (1979) suggests
that the Mexican state hierarchy is actually composed of numerous
cliques of officials that compete for the distribution of government
positions and therefore, by extension, the ability to distribute
resources and form political alliances with popular organizations. In
this light, it might be asked how clientelism fits into this
intra-state conflict? For example, while Coppedge argues that leaders
who criticize the "PRI" may find resources being allocated to new
leaders, is it possible for competing cliques within the state
hierarchy to compete for control of powerful popular organizations or
their constituencies by distributing resources to different leaders
among those groups?

     Furthermore, while students of Mexican popular movements have
generally argued that true "new" social movements reject co- optative
relations with the PRI (e.g. Foweraker, 1990), is it possible that
these new movements are developing within the context of governing
parties as marginal groups manipulate the system in their own

     As I will argue, government officials do attempt to control
street vendor leaders in the manner that Coppedge describes.  However,
they are not always successful. In fact, I will argue that the
co-optative system itself provides a model that vendors can use to
respond effectively to the administrative system which, combined with
the structure of co-optation, actually gives vendors substantial power
to resist city policies. On the one hand, by imposing an authoritarian
organizational model on street vendors, the authorities give leaders
the power to manipulate vendors to advance their political
objectives. But the very competition between the hundreds of leaders
of street vendor organizations throughout the Federal
District--competition for both space and members--means that leaders
cannot reduce their own interests to the interests of their
patrons. They have to produce tangible "goods" for their
members--lucrative space on the street--or be left without followers
as vendors "vote with their feet" to go to other areas to sell.


     Data on these four areas of conflict was collected as part of a
broader research project on the politics of street vending in Mexico
City carried out between 1991 and 1993. The research involved
interviews with most of the major leaders of street vendors, including
Guillermina Rico, Fernando Sanchez and Alejandra Barrios as well as
interviews and observation in street markets controlled by these
leaders. In addition, interviews with officials at a number of the
"delegations" (local administrative districts) of Mexico City and the
Coordinaci"n de Abasto Popular del Distrito Federal (COABASTO),
responsible for popular markets, were carried out. Archival research
at COABASTO also provided a wealth of data about plans to limit and
relocate street vendors, as well as the procedures street vendor
organizations used to deal with officials.

     Observation of these four areas was initiated in order to
understand the process of conflict between street vendors and the city
by looking at cases in which street vendors struggled for
recognition. In one of the cases I became aware of the conflict
because of newspaper coverage, and then followed up on it by
interviewing the vendors involved. In two cases, I was already
involved in research on the area when the conflict emerged. The fourth
case emerged from the files at COABASTO. Except for this last case, I
followed the conflict by attempting to get in touch with the leaders
and vendors involved on each side of the conflict, as well as with
city officials. Data was collected through unscheduled interviews and
observations of daily activity and meetings that stretched until the
conflicts were finally resolved--about a year in each case.

     Because of the "accidental" nature of the selection of these
cases, no claim can be made that they are "representative" of the
different street vendor organizations in Mexico City. However the
pattern of political behavior in each case and the similarity with
other cases reviewed in the archives or in life history interviews
with established leaders indicates that, while the specific street
markets may not be typical, the political processes themselves
are. More than cases studied by themselves, these are presented as
examples of the broader political patterns that emerged during that
research project.


     The high level of organization of street vendors in Mexico City
seems to provide ample evidence that co-optation has been immensely
successful. Of the approximately 200,000 regular street vendors in the
city, at least 95% are members of "civil associations" that are
supposed to represent them in negotiations with city officials. Of
these the vast majority are affiliated with the "popular sector" of
the PRI. This is hardly surprising when it is considered that street
vending is considered illegal by city officials but "tolerated" under
an administrative system that specifies that vendors be a member of an
established and officially recognized organization of vendors.

     Administratively, this policy is designed to limit the growth of
vending and simplify the procedures for controlling it, since
officials can negotiate with the leaders of the organizations who are
then entrusted with the task of enforcing limits on their members. At
the same time, by dealing only with the leader of each organization,
this policy tends to cement the leaders in their positions since they
are the only ones within each organization to have direct access to
officials and political allies. However, this policy also gives the
leader substantial power not only over their own members--vendors who
do not submit to their authority can be ejected from the market--but
also relative to the same officials who create them. That is, they can
use their membership base politically and financially to outmaneuver
low-level officials encharged with controlling them and to appeal to
higher level administrators and politicians, effectively establishing
clientelistic relations that undercut the administrative power of the

     Politically, the organization of vendors has benefitted the
official party since, typically, affiliation with the PRI has been the
best guarantee of receiving the required "tolerances" from the
city. While vendor organizations affiliated with the PRI constantly
refer to their "loyalty" to the party in their correspondence (and
often attack the "loyalty" of their opponents, even if they are also
PRI affiliated), mere affiliation has never been sufficient. Vendor
organizations, like all other popular organizations, have always
required the support of key individuals--patrons--who could push their
claims through and usually over the bureaucratic process. To the
extent that political opening has created a number of political
figures in opposition parties who have substantial contact with
officials-- particularly the PRD which began as a splinter movement of
left- wing elements of the PRI itself--vendors affiliated with
opposition parties can also benefit from this process.

     The following discussion will briefly relate the history of four
conflicts between rival groups of vendors. The first two cases show
conflict between entirely separate groups of vendors, one powerful and
well-established and the other originally "unorganized" and without
any official recognition. While it might be expected that the
confluence of a powerful interest group with state interests would
easily overpower a small, unorganized group of vendors, in each case
the unorganized vendors were able to organize and search for political
supporters and ultimately achieve recognition of their "right" to sell
in the street. Specifically, it will be argued that the threat of
removal created and strengthened organization among the vendors, while
the multiplicity of potential "patron" allies allowed them the means
by which to defend their areas.

     The third and fourth cases represent conflicts within an
established organization in which rebel vendors attempted to wrest
control of the area or the organization itself from the established
leaders. These cases show the tendency of city officials to reinforce
the power of vendor leaders over their members. Here also we are able
to see the role of political affiliation in the dynamics of street
vendor politics: in one case the established leader is affiliated with
the PRI while the rebels were affiliated with the PRD, in the other
the affiliations are reversed. While city officials tended to
initially favor the PRI-affiliated groups, support for the established
leader--whether belonging to the PRI or the PRD--was in the long run
more important. Indeed, the PRI-affiliated rebels were defeated while
the opposition-affiliated rebels were largely successful.

     Thus, while city officials attempted to use the conflicts to
limit the total numbers of vendors in each area and to favor groups
affiliated with the PRI, they were not successful on either count. On
the contrary, the number of vendors grew in those areas where city
officials tried most to limit them, and both PRD-affiliated groups of
vendors were eventually successful.  More importantly, the structural
dynamics of city/vendor relations, dynamics largely created by the
"co-optative" mechanisms themselves, in each case lead to the
solidification of the role and strength of the vendor leaders both
with respect to their fellow vendors and with respect to city
officials themselves. Furthermore, except in the last case, the
conflicts between the street vendors were solved in such a way that
both sides of each conflict won, the loser in each case being only the
city's policy to limit street vending.


     "El Centro" is an old slum area of Mexico City near the
Historical Center with roots stretching back to the pre-hispanic
era. A vibrant street market was wiped out in the late 1950s when the
city built markets for over 7,000 vendors. Since the early 60s,
however, the street market crept back until the area again became a
market hub for the entire city, with some street stalls reportedly
valued at over USD $30,000. When the city built a major thoroughfare
through the area in the early 80s, officials tried to prevent it from
being used for street trade by signing a formal agreement with the 22
vendor organizations in the area. In exchange for formal recognition
of their market zones, they promised not to invade new streets nor the
sidewalks of the thoroughfare. However, by 1992 five new organizations
had been recognized in the area, several on the thoroughfare itself,
which was also being slowly taken over by the more established
organizations which had more than doubled the number of vendors in the
region to 10,000.

     Partly because of the self-identification of the area itself as
"different" from the rest of the city and partly also because of its
nature as a market area with strong neighborhood ties, El Centro's
street markets always had a strong sense of identity.  Thus, since the
60s the organizations had generally formed neighborhood-wide
confederations to increase the power of vendors in the area relative
to the authorities, although they fluctuated between forming a single
confederation or a pair of opposing coalitions. At the time of the
research, in 1992, one confederation, called below "the
Confederation", grouped together 80% of the organizations and vendors
in the area while another, referred to below as "the Coalition"
grouped the rest (CETEPI, 1991). Both were affiliated with the PRI,
although the Confederation boasted contacts with the city
administration and the Coalition spoke of its contacts within the PRI

     The first conflict studied emerged in a two-block stretch of
sidewalk on the thoroughfare. The Confederation, led by Se$or Marcos,
leader of the largest vendor organization in the area, appealed to
city officials to remove a small group of 30-40 unorganized vendors
who they claimed were competing "unfairly" with their own members, who
rented store fronts from the city on the same sidewalk. To back up
their claim they pulled out their copy of the previous agreement, long
since forgotten and ignored by city officials and vendors alike.

     The unorganized vendors were initially at a loss when they were
removed by city employees who claimed that the entire thoroughfare was
being cleared of vendors. When no other vendors were removed (indeed,
another group arranged to pave over the street's planted border at
this time) they began to protest. One of the vendors, a forceful woman
called Elena who knew some of the other leaders, began to emerge as a
leader. Looking for allies, Elena at first asked for the support of a
local official who was also on the governing committee of another
vendor organization. However, this official tried to use them to take
over leadership of her own organization, threatening to embroil them
in a conflict with another powerful group of vendors in the
area. Switching sides, they aligned with the Coalition, which helped
them to organize as a civil association, and put them into contact
with some officials in the PRI.

     During this period they tripled their membership, adding 90 new
members with the promise that, if they were successful, they would
have access to one of the most lucrative areas of street vending in
the city. They held a constant vigil in the area which they claimed to
be rightfully theirs under the rule of "de facto" occupation, although
they were only able to sell on occasional days when the vigilance of
city officials was reduced, and they staged several protests at city
offices and even the presidential residence, hoping for audiences with
high-level officials, which were always denied. For its part, the
Confederation also staged several rallies, claiming to represent the
interests of the city in preventing "new invasions" of the city's
streets. But Se$or Marcos made a fatal error when, in response to an
insult from one of the new vendors, he arranged a "show of arms" in
which hundreds of his members were photographed wielding poles and
machetes to intimidate the new group.

     Responding to the threat of violence, and prompted by the support
Elena was getting from the Coalition and the PRIist officials, the
city began to negotiate with the new vendors.  Within a month they
were allowed to occupy a side street off the thoroughfare. While the
area was not immediately sufficient to hold all their new members, nor
as potentially lucrative as the area they were forced to leave, it
represented a base from which they were able to successfully expand in
the following months as they became integrated into the political


     The second case also concerns two groups of vendors affiliated
with the PRI, although in this case in a middle class residential
suburb in the south of the city. In late 1985, an authorized tianguis
complained to a city-wide agency, encharged with reducing the level of
street vending, about a group of street vendors who were selling on a
daily basis near one of their work sites, cutting into their
sales. The agency began making inquiries, and concluded that the new
group of vendors would have to be removed because of a ban on new
vendors and organizations that had been ordered by the city government
in 1984. They proposed that the vendors be absorbed into one or more
of the surrounding tianguis locations and removed them from the area.

     In January of 1986, however, a congressman wrote to the director
of the agency claiming that neighbors of the street market had
complained to him about the vendors being removed, and he requested
that they be returned. A week later, in a meeting with lower officials
at the agency, who still insisted that the vendors be relocated
(indicating they hadn't received any directions to the contrary from
the director), the vendors argued that, in a meeting between the
congressman and the director, the latter had agreed to recognize them
as an independent association, provided that they formed a civil
association and elect a board of directors. In a second meeting in
which the director and the congressman participated the new group was
authorized to sell in the location they had been occupying for four
years without any permit.

     The leader of the established tianguis reacted harshly, asking
sarcastically in a formal letter to the delegation:

     "...that you make clear to us whether the suspension of
     authorizations is still current, since we consider it unjust
     that a group of (unorganized) recognized as a
     tianguis...considering that we vendors in tianguis have more
     rights to new authorizations since we support the program of
     the (government) and are disciplined with our party..." 

     As in the first case the removal of an unregistered group of
vendors was requested by an established group, affiliated with the
PRI, that had a 15 year old permit in the area. Furthermore, in each
case the removal of the vendors was clearly authorized and required by
the law as well as the administrative policies of the agencies in
question. However, by finding a political ally within the PRI with a
close connection to high officials in one of the regulatory agencies,
the unregistered groups were authorized to continue selling despite
the fact that by doing so, the agencies and officials had to break a
direct administrative order to recognize no new groups of vendors.

     Support for their patrons was an implicit part of each episode:
In the first case, Elena group was used to support the election of PRI
officials while in the second both the politician and the official
were elected to new offices in the 1988 elections--the congressman
moving to an important position in the newly formed Asamblea de
Representantes del Distrito Federal (the Federal District's local
council--ARDF) and the director of the agency to the Federal Congress.


     The third conflict occurred in the exterior plaza of a downtown
metro station where a large street market had sprung up to take
advantage of the constant flow of passengers spewing out of the
station into local offices. The vendors, about 140 individuals, were
controlled by Do$a Maria, a leader recognized by city officials for
her brutal practices towards her vendors.  In late 1991 the city
started to discuss plans to build a market for the vendors in the
plaza, and she began to increase their fees to "protect" their
interests and to take into account the added potential value of the
market. When 120 of them decided to reject her leadership, they
thought they would be able to lay claim to the area in which they were
selling. The leader sent several groups of men to intimidate them,
leading to fights and prompting the city to remove all of the vendors
to prevent further violence. However, instead of allowing the rebel
vendors to occupy the area, city officials dragged on "negotiations"
with Do$a Maria, offering to allow the rebels to set up their market
in another area of their choosing in the meantime.

     The rebels, who expressed their contempt for vendor leaders by
refusing to designate their own leader for some time, decided to set
up in front of the ARDF as a political statement and at the same time
appealed for advice to the leader of a large "popular" organization
affiliated with the PRD, comprised mostly of land-invader groups. The
first move got them a lot of positive attention in the press and from
assembly members. The second won them many enemies in the
administration, especially since Do$a Maria used their "advisor's"
affiliation against them.

     When they were unable to get favorable attention from low- level
officials, they staged several protests at the Delegation, at one
point organizing a brief "sit-in". This combination of protests and
their advisor's support slowly had an effect, but they were also
forced by administrators to designate a single "leader"--they chose a
juice vendor named Pedro--to speak for the group. First, the vendors
were allowed back into the plaza, but behind several hundred new
vendors who had been given stalls by Do$a Maria in order to fill-up
the area they had occupied before.  This position was far from ideal,
but the worst problem was that city officials refused to allow the
rebel vendors to purchase stalls in the new market that had been
planned over the previous year with the old leader. Officials argued
that the market, although planned, built and financed by the city, had
been negotiated with Do$a Maria and "belonged" to her. If they wanted
space in the market, they would have to deal with her. Knowing the
reception they would get, the rebel vendors pushed for their own slots
in the market.

     Fortuitously at this point, responding to a political crisis
dealing with the market construction program, the Regent of the
Federal District, under pressure from President Salinas, formed a new
office encharged with coordinating market construction, taking this
power away from the Delegation. Pedro and his vendors appealed to the
new office where their advisor had some contacts and which was in any
case under strong pressure to move the market program along at any
cost. Thus, the new office immediately allotted stalls for Pedro's
vendors, ignoring the protests by Do$a Maria. Still, the areas allowed
for their members were in the worst part of the market, and the
officials insisted for several months that this was necessary. Finally
the rebels threatened to simply prevent the market, which was designed
to be a showcase for the entire "Historical Center" market relocation
project, from opening. They got their wish and received better


     The "Canal Market" is a Sunday tianguis located in a commercial
area on the edge of the Federal District bordering several densely
occupied municipalities of the State of Mexico.  Beginning in the late
60s as a scrap metal market occupying a street next to an open sewage
canal, the market expanded until it filled large areas of the
neighborhood with over 10,000 vendors selling everything from scrap
metal to clothes and electronics.  At the same time, the original
market organization split into several organizations, with rival
leaders simply setting up markets in different areas of the
neighborhood until it was filled virtually to capacity.

     In the early 80s the leader of one of these splinter
organizations, Don Jacobo, was accused of fraud by his members and
jailed. An elderly couple, Don Francisco and Do$a Marta, who had been
on Jacobo's governing committee, took over leadership.  When Don
Jacobo left jail and tried to resume control of the 500- strong
organization, the couple refused, arguing that he would simply abuse
the vendors again. However, he managed to persuade some of his old
followers to ignore the couple, and thus prevented them from
establishing complete control over the market. Still, Don Francisco
and Marta were supported by the Federation to which the tianguis

     But in 1988 Don Jacobo's fortunes improved when the Federation,
itself the largest such federation in the Federal District with almost
10,000 members, broke away from the PRI to support Cuauhtemoc C rdenas
in that year's presidential elections. Hoping to secure the full
support of the PRI, Jacobo renewed the association's old affiliation
with the PRI under his own name. Even then, however, the combination
of his own checkered past and the support of the Federation behind Don
Francisco meant that officials continued to ignore him.  Nevertheless,
he still provoked enough problems within the organization to prevent
Don Francisco from fully controlling the market and making many
vendors worry that, in light of rumors of construction on the canal,
if the government were to clear the area they might not get the
protection that they needed because of the squabble over leadership.

     In this atmosphere, a more serious challenge was made by a
splinter group of Jacobo's followers who, claiming that neither leader
represented the market, formed their own leadership clique, perhaps
hoping to take advantage of the confusion. A proliferation of flyers
from each of the three leadership groups flooded the market as each
claimed that it represented the best interests of the vendors. The new
group called several meetings at the PRI's local offices and claimed
to have been elected by the members, although very few of the 500
members ever went to the meetings. They also boasted of having support
from the PRI and key officials, although officials I spoke with
claimed they had merely been presented to them by a congressman who
appeared to be supporting them. For his part, Don Francisco frequently
went to the Federation to urge them to intervene with officials on his

     With the Federation backing up Don Francisco, the local PRI
office didn't feel secure enough to support the new leadership clique
without proof that they enjoyed support in the market.  Thus, the new
group was obliged to call a new meeting to "confirm" their election as
the official representatives of the market, this time with the
attendance of PRI officials and neighboring leaders. An official from
a city agency was also invited, but left before the meeting began upon
seeing that it was sparsely attended. Only 50 vendors arrived. When a
visiting leader pointed out that this was not a quorum of the 500
members of the organization, he was hissed and pushed out of the
room. Despite the fact that the new clique claimed reelection at the
meeting, it was a dismal failure. The following week Don Francisco was
elated, claiming that he had won a great victory and would be able to
consolidate his hold over the market.


     Two general effects of conflict between the state and street
vendors emerge from these case histories. First, as is shown most
dramatically in the first and third cases, in order to increase their
ability to enforce their claims, leaders are likely to increase their
membership by offering spaces to other individuals if they join in the
general struggle. "Free rider" problems, on the other hand, one of the
central problems in social movement theory (Klandermans, 1991) are
largely eliminated by threatening to eject from the group any vendors
who do not participate in this struggle. For example in "El Centro"
daily roll-calls were held during the period in which the vendors were
unable to sell to make sure they were all guarding their
area. Likewise, in the "Canal Market" each leader took advantage of
rumors of massive public works in the area to persuade members to sign
up with them so that they would be "taken care of" in the case of a

     Secondly, the fact that city officials insisted that a single
leader represent the group, and therefore that negotiations and the
search for political allies were generally handled by the leader, gave
this individual increasing power over their fellow vendors. A few
months after the "El Centro" vendors were settled in their new
location many of the most active participants in the struggle bitterly
complained to me of the way that the leader had taken over the
organization, relegating them to the status of mere dues-payers. In
another case in which a group of vendors successfully negotiated a
compromise with officials who attempted to remove them, the relation
between the leader and officials was made patently clear for this
observer when a vendor appealed to the officials to force the leader
to give her a better stall location within their new area. Rather than
supporting the vendor, the official threatened to remove her
altogether, "Whenever (the leader) gives the word". This growing
authoritarianism within the vendor organizations can be argued to
benefit the organization as a whole, however, since it allows the
leader to manipulate the full financial and political resources of the
membership in the search for political sponsors.

     While, as noted above, no claim is made for the
"representativeness" of these four sets of organizations, the case
histories are clear examples of the pattern of political processes
that emerged from interviews with officials, vendors and leaders, the
study of archival sources as well as personal observations in dozens
of other cases throughout the city. The success of these groups
demonstrates that clientelism has not come cheap in the City of
Mexico. Rather than the state or even the PRI "controlling" client
groups, vendors seem to have remarkable success in getting what they
want--commercial space and a livelihood--for a comparatively low
cost. The question to answer, then, is why is this so?

     Coppedge (1993) argues that political pluralism in Venezuela
weakens the effect of clientelism as compared to Mexico. What he
perhaps overlooks is the potential for client groups to take advantage
of competition between cliques within the PRI. But this can only be
true if client groups can take advantage of such competition--that is,
if they are not tied too firmly to the interests of any one group
within the competitive political structure. Therefore, it is
tentatively argued that vendors, because of their unique form of
organization, are able to take advantage of such competition whereas
other groups within Mexico cannot.

     One aspect of vendor organization that seems to make this
possible is, paradoxically, its very competitive nature. Rather than
being organized into a single large political movement, vendors are
divided into a multiplicity of organizations that by their nature
compete with each other for commercial territory. By mediating in
these territorial conflicts, the city is compelled to recognize the
"de facto" rights of the vendors to occupy the areas they control,
first by favoring one group over the other, and then by recognizing
the rights of the second group in a "compromise" that assigns it an
area of its own to prevent further conflict. As one government
official and vendor was fond of telling me with regard to "El Centro":
"Here we have two confederations: one plays the good guy and one the
bad guy. And they both win. It works better that way."

     Secondly, because of their competitive nature, each leader is
wary of negotiations with the city that may reduce the size or
commercial value of their territory because, in the end, they only
control space, not individual vendors. If a leader were to accept
relocation into a non-lucrative area his or her vendors could simply
leave for other market areas controlled by other leaders. Likewise,
each leader has an incentive to expand their areas in order to
increase the size of their organizations, which increases both their
cash flow and their political power. Thus, even an agreement to limit
their expansion, if obeyed, could have negative long-term effects,
since it would allow other leaders to expand around them and take
territory that could have been theirs. In a sense, leaders are
businesspeople who negotiate with officials for commercial rights that
they resell to vendors.  Thus, the competitive nature of vendor
organizations leads to a system of political and commercial
entrepreneurship in which leaders constantly strive to provide better
and more "space" for vendors and are thus unable to absorb the costs
of controlling their members for the benefit of the state.

     Thirdly, the competition between organizations leads to multiple
competitive "linkages" between vendors and the state.  When
organizations compete, they each search for alternative patrons within
the administrative-political structure. In the long term, such
multiple linkages benefit vendors as a whole since on the one hand
they become more difficult for city officials to control (and indeed,
agencies have to spend their energy simply mediating between them) and
on the other, even if some "patrons" fall from favor and become unable
to effectively push for their clients' demands, the law of averages
dictates that others will be on the ascendence. Thus, at any one time
at least some vendor groups will have powerful patrons able to push
for their interests.

     An example of the ability of multiple competing organizations to
resist state policies is given by Parnell (1992) in a study of Sama
Sama, a squatter community in Manila, Philippines. Parnell argued that
one of the most important resistance techniques used by squatters was
to provoke disagreements among themselves. He argues:

     "By escalating their disputes with their opponents, rather
     than acquiescing to or appealing to their common identities
     and problems, Sama Sama fomented the expansion of
     governmental plans for housing projects while at the same
     time decreasing the likelihood that the government would be
     able to implement those projects (as a result of increased
     squatter resistance). In other words, through actively
     engaging their squatter opponents in disputes, Sama Sama
     increased squatter participation in the movement to create
     time for the grassroots evolution of squatter communities."

     At first sight it seems counter-intuitive that politically
marginal groups could more effectively resist state policies by
dividing their meager resources and energy among rival
organizations. After all, isn't it organization that produces social
power? However, it must be kept in mind that the "resisters" that
Parnell refers to, and the street vendors in this study, are not
trying to assert their power over the state.  Rather, they are trying
to prevent the state from using its power against them. In other
words, since they cannot control the social power embodied in the
state, their best alternative is to restrict the power of the state
over them by becoming disorganized and thus reducing the ability of
the state to manipulate them. Organizations exist, but within a
fragmented movement. If the state attempts to co-opt or negotiate with
one of these organizations, it will run into opposition from the rest,
and thus be thwarted in its attempts to control the movement. Thus,
while their disorganization prevents the movement from being able to
shape state policy directly (a power it is unlikely they would have in
any case), it allows them to shape state policy indirectly by
preventing unfavorable policies from being implemented and forcing the
state to allow them to operate with limited state interference.

     It is precisely this ability to organize within multiple
competing organizations within an overall social movement that makes
street vending so difficult to control in Mexico City. By organizing
locally, rather than at the city-wide or regional level, vendors are
able to escape corporative control while still retaining the benefits
of organization where it counts--at the local level. Rather than
organizing to change city policy towards vending as a whole, vendors
have been able to thwart or bypass the implementation of policies
detrimental to their interests, constantly expanding their territory
and reinvading areas that the city has "cleared" as soon as political
pressure has ebbed.  While the dynamics of political linkages appear
to give vendor leaders power over individual vendors, the dynamics of
organization competition functions to ultimately limit leaders to
represent the broad interests of their members against the state.  As
a leader put it succinctly in a press conference, "If I agree to move
my people to an area where they can't sell, I lose them."


     While co-optation has been widely perceived as a mechanism by
which the state is able to control marginal population groups by
limiting the demands of "subalterns" and keeping subordinate
population groups from organizing horizontally, I have argued that
co-optation can be seen as a double edged sword. By stimulating the
formation and linking of multiple competing organizations with the
state/party apparatus, the state unwittingly politicizes street vendor
behavior at the local level by emphasizing the entrepreneurial role of
street vendor leaders as intermediaries between vendors and competing
state elites.  Ultimately, while leaders are pressured to work within
the system, they are also compelled by the political-economic logic of
their entrepreneurial position to use their organizational resources
to put the concrete interests of their members-- commercial
space--over the abstract interests of the state. Thus, the state
creates the very organizational forms that can thwart its policy

     But if competition between multiple organizations provides
vendors with the capacity to resist state policies, it may also
explain why workers and peasants have been relatively less successful
in promoting their interests in Mexico. Since they tend to be
organized monopolistically at the local level--that is, only one union
represents everyone in a factory or ejido--it is precisely this lack
of competition at the local level between rival organizations that
gives leaders in these sectors the ability to ignore their
constituents. In the absence of democratic controls, this allows the
state to control both groups relatively easily.

     In sum, this paper argues that resistance should be seen as the
result of the structured production of relations between the state on
the one hand and interest groups in society on the other, rather than
as either a "clash" of autonomous groups or the "control" of dependent
groups. That is, the ability of vendors to resist is a function of the
particular way in which the state and individual state officials have
attempted to control and use them for their own benefit within a
historically constructed set of rules, requirements and procedures.
Paradoxically this relationship, it is argued, produces the potential
for resistance even within the political mechanism that scholars have
argued is the basis of state control--the process of co-optation. 


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