Documents on Mexican Politics.


                     By John C. Cross, Ph.D.

                The American University in Cairo
                          January, 1995

                     DRAFT FOR COMMENTS ONLY

       Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Psychology
                The American University in Cairo
                          P.O. Box 2511
                       Cairo, 11511, EGYPT
                     (011-202) 517-3306 (h)
                     (011-202) 357-6761 (o)

     This paper analyses the recent attempt by the government of
Mexico City to formalize street vending in that city by relocating
street vendors in part of the downtown area known as the "Historical
Center" into enclosed market buildings. The forces behind the changes
in policy towards street vending are analyzed and the weaknesses of
the policies are discussed with reference to the powerful street
vendor organizations active in the city.

     Between 1993 and 1994 the government of Mexico City implemented
the most ambitious market construction program since the 1960s in the
downtown area known as the "Historical Center".  This area, comprising
approximately a 1 kilometer radius around the National Palace and
"Zocalo" (central Square) of the city, has been designated as a
cultural and historical landmark by the UNESCO and holds special
significance for Mexico as the historical seat of government. But
until recently over 10,000 street vendors had taken over most of its
streets slowing or completely impeding vehicular traffic and generally
preventing the city from turning the area into a touristic showcase of
colonial architecture. In addition, officials and private business
representatives argued that the vendors competed "disloyally" with
formal commercial businesses, evaded taxation, sold contraband goods,
and presented a health threat for the general public because of the
lack of sanitary facilities and health department supervision of food

     The market construction program was designed to deal with each of
these issues in turn. Besides removing vendors from the street, it was
designed to allow them to become subject to the tax codes, health
regulations and otherwise pay the full "costs of formality." This
paper will look at how this policy was implemented, largely over the
objections of street vendors themselves who often complained that
their earnings were too low to warrant these additional
costs. Furthermore, it will provide an initial qualitative assessment
of the success of the program based on a limited set of open ended
interviews with officials and vendors in the summer of 1994.

     Mexico City has seen a vast growth in street vending over the
last two decades. By 1992, about 200,000 vendors sold everything from
fresh food and "tacos" to stereos and TV sets in thousands of street
markets spread throughout the city.  Alternately vilified and
supported by officials and politicians who have used them as
scapegoats for many urban problems but also as political allies,(1)
street vending grew markedly as a form of "self-employment" that
helped feed many families and provide essential services during the
difficult period of the Mexican economic "crisis" of the
1980s. Indeed, as recently as 1990, the Mayor of Mexico City, Manuel
Camacho Solis, labeled as "bordering on fascism" the efforts by a
group of middle-sized store owners to have street vending declared
illegal by the Mexican Supreme Court, (La Jornada 1/23/90: 22) and the
Administrator of the downtown district (the Delegacion Cuauhtemoc),
where the largest concentration of street vendors in the world--some
25,000--ply their trade, eloquently criticized those who, "with a
baroque vision, feel that the Historical Center should be a reflection
of the greatness of our ancestors, but not a mirror of the social
reality in which we live," and praised street vending as a "reliever
of social tension, an alternative employment that closes the door to
poverty and opens the possibility of new economic perspectives that
come to better the quality of life."  (2)

     But yet within a year of these statements, these same officials
unveiled a program designed to eliminate street vending from the map
of Mexico City, or at least to begin to do so, in an ambitious program
of market building construction that would herald the formalization of
the economic role of this vast economic sector. This change in the
official posture towards street vending closely followed the 1991
mid-term elections in Mexico, in which the PRI made a surprising
come-back. After almost losing the presidency and control of congress
in 1988, the PRI swept the 1991 elections with only a few charges of
electoral fraud. Street vendors, who traditionally had been used as
"acarreados" (paid supporters) by important groups within the PRI to
"legitimize" elections by a show of "supporters", now perhaps didn't
seem to be as necessary to a regime focusing its sights on the
"modernization" of Mexico City in anticipation of the North American
Free Trade Agreement. Street vendors were "hold overs" of the
traditional past, and the Salinas regime wanted to project a different

     Although the local Assembly for the Federal District (ARDF) had
spent two years writing a new ordinance to regulate street vending,
this was shelved after the elections while the city began to plan the
removal of ambulatory vendors in the city's Metro rail system as a
prelude to removing vendors from the Historical Center and, later, the
rest of the city. A series of "negotiations" between officials and
street vendor leaders began in which city officials urged the leaders
to sign a vaguely worded general statement that promised to "reorder"
street vending in the central area. Later it became clear that these
terms were taken by the city to mean the relocation of vendors into
specially built market buildings. (3)

     The first step was to clear the city's metro system of vendors. A
month after the 1991 elections rumors began to be circulated of a
crackdown in the metro, and the metro carried out a propaganda blitz
identifying the vendors with safety hazards.  The actual crackdown
came six months later in January, 1992 after a fight between a vendor
and a passenger resulted in a fatal shooting. Using the shooting as an
excuse, the city clamped down with the use of hundreds of riot
police. The metro operation was significant in two regards, despite
the fact that it was never 100% successful. First, it showed vendors
that the city could use force if necessary, and thus pressured vendor
leaders to go along with the city's plans for their removal. Secondly,
the shooting provided substantial public support for the city's
actions, suggesting that public opinion was moving against street
vending and in favor of the city's law and order policies.


     Despite the city's desire to remove street vendors from the
historical center, prodded by directives from the President's office,
and it's success in the Metro, they seemed to act extremely slowly
when dealing with the vendors in the area because of their connections
with the PRI. The 10,000 vendors were represented by over 2 dozen
associations of vendors which ranged in size from 7,000 vendors to a
few hundred (including vendors in other parts of the city in some
cases). These associations, organized by the PRI itself in the
aftermath of the market construction program of the 1960s, were
typically lead by authoritarian leaders who were adept at mobilizing
their members of behalf of allies within the political system. (4) The
most powerful leader had served as an alternate for the local assembly
and was invited to several functions at "Los Pinos", the presidential
palace. All of the larger associations were visited personally by PRI
presidential and Senatorial candidates during elections, and several
leaders were running for office on behalf of the PRI during the 1994
elections. Officials remained wary of the power of the leaders, and
struggled with a number of proposals for "relocation" of the vendors
which would be satisfactory to them. As one high official noted, "our
biggest fear is arriving at confrontations. There is a presidential
mandate that we have to fulfil, but we don't have the way to do it

     But also present in the Historical Center were several
associations of small merchants who claimed to represent the many
small boutiques that line the more fashionable streets in the
area. While a certain level of competition had always existed between
these merchants and the street vendors (although to a certain degree
their interests were also complementary since the street market
attracted huge numbers of clients to the area), the conflict between
them intensified after the passage of new fiscal regulations which
compelled small merchants to purchase "fiscal cash registers" that the
tax authorities hoped would stem the high degree of tax evasion among
shopkeepers. Despite the fact that many small shopkeepers simply never
used the machines, they still had to purchase them while their
"informal" street colleagues avoided both the taxes and the
machines. The reaction to this measure was harnessed by some of the
small-business associations to increase their own membership roles and
buttress their importance in the area by laying the blame squarely on
the street vendors.

     The most militant of these groups, "Procentrico", was formed by a
colorful character named Guillermo Gazal Jafif to push for the
elimination of street vending in the city center. Originally ignored
by city officials and snubbed by the city's official Chamber of
Commerce (Camara Nacional de Comercio, or CANACO), this group became
highly successful in gaining national attention for their cause and
pushing the city to carry through on the "reordering" of street

     During this initial period, several street vendor organizations
began extending their areas and augmenting their numbers of
vendors--to guarantee a larger number of market spaces, or at least a
better negotiation position. Others took advantage of the plans by
charging their vendors huge fees to "guarantee" their places within
the future markets. Officials added to the confusion by claiming that
each organization had to create a fund to pay for the down-payment of
their project--but vendors were still charged individual down-payments
by the city after paying into funds supposedly maintained by the
associations for the same purpose.

     What made the policy more difficult to implement was that, in
keeping with Salinas' neo-liberal policies of eliminating subsidies,
vendors had to pay for the full cost of the stalls.  Historically,
public markets had been built by the city and the stalls rented to
vendors at a symbolic cost both to entice vendors into the markets and
to keep them loyal to the PRI. Thus, after the construction of 55,000
market stalls between 1955 and 1968, market construction had ground to
a halt due to the lack of new funds even as the maintenance costs of
the existing markets became an enormous drain on the public
treasury. As a result, the Salinas government planned to build
"markets in condominium": market buildings in which stalls would be
sold outright to individual vendors and an association of
"vendor-owners" would own and maintain the building
infrastructure. But when a "test market" was constructed in the nearby
"La Merced" district in 1991 (The "San Ciprian" market for 1,100
vendors), only 20% of the stalls were initially occupied despite the
fact that the street vendor association had signed an agreement to
occupy it and that the vendors had already paid the down payments. The
failure of the market was acutely embarrassing for the city given its
need to convince the Historical Center leaders to follow the same
model. (5)

     The slow pace of action finally brought a response from the
leader of Procentrico who had for several years been one of the
most vocal and militant activists against street vending in the city,
leading him into direct conflict not only with the street vendor
organizations, but also with city officials and the Chamber of
Commerce (CANACO). As early as January of 1989, Gazal attacked city
officials for allowing the street vendors in the center to "steal"
10,000 million pesos (U$4.5 million) in sales from the small
stores. In January of 1990, after obtaining a supreme court ruling
against street vending, he threatened that his members would stage
store closings to enforce the ruling, leading the Regent to accuse him
of "bordering on fascism". In late August and early September of 1991,
Gazal again appeared in the public light, urging that the vendors at
least be put into bazaars.


     However, despite his activism, Gazal was largely ignored by city
officials who preferred to negotiate with the less volatile CANACO. In
May of 1992, claiming that three months had passed since the agreement
between the city and vendors with no results, Gazal again threatened
to initiate a series of "strikes" among the small merchants of the
city center. City officials ignored him, so he went ahead with his
threat, calling a "rolling strike" in which each day a few blocks of
stores would close between 10 am and 12 noon (when many were still
closed anyway). (6) On several occasions, he went personally to
"check" on the strikes, preceding each "check" with a press breakfast
to make sure a large press representation followed him. On one such
occasion several vendors recognized him and he became surrounded by a
group of vendors who chanted insults at him until he made his
escape. A week later, on June 9, 1992, accompanied this time also by
news cameras, he checked another previously announced strike.

     This time the vendors staged a counter-demonstration against
Gazal. The crowd of enraged vendors marched up to where he was
standing and, after a short shouting match, bright red tomatoes
started falling out of the sky besmirching Gazal's cashmere suit.
After a few seconds, Gazal and two assistants who were with him began
to run, and the crowd ran after them. The following notes were taken
while watching a video tape held by the vendors' association:

     It shows young people running to the side of and in front
     of Gazal throwing tomatoes at him and shouting "get lost"
     and less pleasant things. But even though they could have
     cut him off easily there is no attempt to do more than
     throwingtomatoes. No stones are seen. When Gazal gets to the
     corner of Brazil and ran around it with his assistants,
     several of the attackers follow him, but are called back by
     the others. The film shows Gazal and his assistants getting
     into two sports cars parked on the street and taking off as
     fast as they can. "Get lost, damned a__hole," a voice is
     heard. Anti-semitic profanities were also heard frequently
     on the tape.

     The vendors seemed to hate Gazal, who they saw as a direct threat
to their livelihoods. One lamented that tomatoes had been used against
the activist: "They should really have been stones because tomatoes
are very expensive. That way the problem would be over," he joked.

     But the event was clearly welcomed by Gazal who, in the opinion
of many members of the press, had been hoping to provoke such a
response. One noted that even several hours afterwards, Gazal was
still in his tomato-stained suit waiting for a television crew to
interview him. He was first-page news the next day, and was carried by
the top evening news program in the country the same evening, sparking
massive criticism of the protestors and of street vendors in general,
and helping to satanize the Historical Center vendors in the same way
that the Metro shooting had stripped the Metro vendors of any public

     However, in contrast to the unanimous press opposition to the
metro vendors when they were attacked, several key newspaper sources
supported the street vendors this time, attacking Gazal for being an
opportunist who simply wanted to get attention in order to win a power
struggle with the CANACO. A political columnist for La Prensa, a
popular newspaper that generally attacked street vendor organizations,
went so far as to accuse Gazal of committing fraud against investors
who were trying to build markets in the city, and the same columnist
took delight in noting that even after the above events, Gazal
couldn't get an appointment with the Secretary of Governance.

     But Gazal was in fact highly successful. Not only was vending on
the street involved suspended immediately, with a 24-hour guard of
over 60 riot police, but a week after the tomato attacks a shuffling
of major posts and responsibilities within the administration was
forced on the city by President Salinas.  The Secretary of Governance
who had ignored Gazal was reassigned to a much less important
position. With him, following Mexican administrative tradition, went
his entire staff, including those who had begun to take the office
beyond its purely oversight role into the planning and implementation
of the relocation of street vendors in the Historical Center.

     At the same time a new "Coordination" was formed to take over the
functions that the Secretariat of Governance had begun to perform in
coordinating the market construction with a specific mandate of
coordinating the construction of facilities for the relocation of all
street vendors in the Historical Center. The Secretariat became a
purely administrative office once again, with no direct policy
implementation responsibilities.

     Gazal was not the only factor influencing this process.
Interagency rivalries were also influential--with the "red monday"
event providing an excuse for attacking the Secretariat of Governance
by a number of different groups that were in danger of having their
own power undermined by the growth in the Secretariat. Not least of
these were vendors themselves, as well as the PRI. But within the
administration the biggest enemy would seem to be the 16
administrative sub-units of the city. Called "Delegations", they were
each responsible for administrative and regulatory functions within a
specific territory--functions which the secretariat had begun to take
over. While the officials I spoke to in the Secretariat of Governance
denied that any tensions existed between their office and the
delegations, the fact that they were writing a budget that included
over 80 new personnel whose sole purpose was to make sure that the
delegations were doing their jobs properly indicated that relations
between the secretariat and the delegations were far from

     The formation of a separate agency to coordinate and negotiate
the construction of markets, also supports this explanation. By
removing the implementation of the street vendor policy from the
Secretariat's office the city appeared to be both allowing for
centralization as well as keeping the secretariat's office from
becoming too powerful. Significantly, the new agency had no direct
administrative powers, and had to rely upon the delegations to
actually implement policy decisions.

     A third factor also appears to be at work. Cutting back on the
authority of the Secretariat of Governance also satisfied the concerns
of leaders, who were afraid that the secretariat's office would have
no limit on its power and mandate if it became directly involved in
the affair. One of the immediate results of the creation of the new
office was that--while the secretariat was stripped of any direct
responsibility for street vending, the new agency was only given a
mandate to begin construction of markets for street vendors from the
Historical Center, when the secretariat had been discussing the
elimination of street vending from the entire city. The result was a
far more limited mandate with less powers for carrying it out on the
part of the agency entrusted with eliminating street vending.

     Backed by presidential authority and spurred by organized groups
in civil society, the plan advanced slowly but surely over the
following two years. The new agency merged with a previous agency,
COABASTO (the Coordinaci"n de Abasto y Comercio Popular), which took
over the planning of the market program and was given full authority
to negotiate credit guarantees amounting to hundreds of millions of
dollars to secure financial backing for the project. A special credit
institution, the Fondo de Desarollo Economico y Social del Distrito
Federal (FONDEDF) was opened as a subsidiary of Nacional Financiero,
S.A., a government-owned bank, to manage the financial side of the
program, putting up 43 per cent of the 580 million new pesos that the
project required.  (Approximately 175 million US dollars at 1994
exchange rates) while most of the rest was provided by the Banco
Nacional de Comercio Interior, another government-owned financial

     Since street vendors generally did not have proof of their income
nor were they able or willing to put up other property for security on
the debt they were to incur by entering the markets--generally from
US$5-10,000 depending upon the size and type of stall, of which 10%
was to be paid as a downpayment, with monthly payments stretched over
6--years the city had to function as the guarantor of all the
financial credits provided for the market program. Thus, even though
the city was operating in a new "neo-liberal" mode very different from
the 1960s market program, it still incurred a huge financial risk as a
direct result of the pressures noted above (DDF-COABASTO 1994). (7)


     Why did the city suddenly take such forceful steps against street
vending after 30 years of "benign neglect". One clue is given by the
fact that the market construction program was carried out in the
context of impending presidential elections.  Although planning
started shortly after the 1991 mid-term elections, most of the markets
were completed and handed over to the vendors in the year prior to the
1994 presidential elections.  The timing was significant in as much as
the Regent of the Federal District--Ma$uel Camacho Solis--was seen by
many as the most likely candidate for the PRI's nomination to the
presidency.  Camacho Solis attempted to use the market construction
program as his lever into the presidency as a way of projecting a
"can-do" image for the middle class and gaining adherents among a new
class of "vendor-owners" as well. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful
and he was passed over when Luis Colosio was selected as the PRI's
presidential candidate in late November, 1993.

     But another important clue is given by the many statements by
officials who argued that street vending was incompatible with the
modern image that Mexico City was attempting to project in light of
the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and
Canada. While street vending had been largely protected during the
period of economic crisis in the 1980s by the argument that it
provided economic opportunities for the unemployed, interviews with
officials after the 1991 elections showed a pervasive attitude that
vendors had become wealthy and could now begin to pay their own
way. On the other hand, a belief in the ability of NAFTA to
reinvigorate the economy and provide new jobs also provided a rational
for eliminating the opportunities that street vending provided.

     At the same time, mounting pressure from small-business
associations to eliminate the "disloyal competition" of street vending
was itself largely caused by the increasing formalization of that
sector, causing a greater distance between small businesses and street
vendors in terms of the formal costs they faced.

     Finally, the 1991 elections seemed to show that the PRI could win
elections without resorting to massive electoral fraud, and thus the
role of street vendors as "acarreados" became less important to the
state as a whole. While many street vendor organizations still
maintained strong connections to the PRI and were still politically
important, as will be argued below, this provided an "opening" for
city officials to take action against street vending.

     But the limitations of the political system were still apparent
in the relocation process itself. Most importantly, it was apparent in
the ability of street vendor organizations to strengthen themselves
even as they acquiesced to the relocation program itself.

     On the surface, the project appeared to be a complete
success. The Christmas Season of 1993-94 was the first season in
recent memory in which the number of vendors in the Historical Center
did not double, and by the summer of 1994 the streets of the area
seemed curiously empty.  Traffic and pedestrians moved unencumbered by
the thousands of vendors who had crowded the streets and
sidewalks. While newspaper stalls had not been affected by the
"Banco", (8) and a special class of candy stalls seemed to be also
inexplicably immune to the ruling, the number of vendor stalls had
dropped to one or two per block as opposed to the hundreds that had
existed previously.

     Furthermore, the city was implementing plans to begin to fully
"formalize" the vendors by making them fully subject to the tax code
as small businesses. Those who only a year before had been informal
street vendors were now located in new market buildings, had been
counted by the commercial census, held mortgages, and were to begin
paying taxes.

     But underneath this surface many cracks had already
appeared. While a few of the markets that were exceptionally well
placed (usually those right next to Metro facilities) were doing good
business, many of the markets were barely surviving. Vendors opened
their stalls, but reported low sales that did not cover their monthly
payments. And in a brief survey of markets on a weekend, when sales
are traditionally high, at least half the stalls appeared to be
permanently closed. The worst area was La Merced, a market area
where over 3,000 stalls had been built in the 1950s and where an equal
number had been constructed to accommodate a new generation of street
vendors in 1993. While the old market buildings were doing the same
level of business as before, the new markets were almost entirely
empty. One market built for 1,500 vendors had only 25% of its stalls
open on even the busiest days, mostly on the side of the building
closest to the old market. Despite the fact that the stalls had only
just gone into repayment, over 50 of the stalls had already been
repossessed by the FONDEDF due to lack of payment on their mortgages
as their owners gave up on them and forfeited their downpayments.

     Where were the rest of the vendors? Given the apparent increase
in the number of vendors in other areas of the city, many appeared to
have simply left the area. Others had become "toreros" in the
Historical Center, selling small quantities of goods at street corners
where they could quickly gather their small amount of merchandise and
run in any direction if the market patrol appeared. These tactics were
also carried out by many of the vendors who opened their market stalls
as well, as a way of making enough money to pay off their
mortgages. (9) One young man caring for a child at the market
mentioned above said he never sold more than three pairs of sandals a
day, but his wife, the real owner of the stall, sold illegally in the
nearby streets to pay the mortgage and their living expenses. An
elderly man who spoke eloquently about his attempts to convince his
fellow vendors to give their market (in another area) a chance to
build up a clientele actually earned most of his money a block away
from the market on a pedestrian bridge. An Indian woman with a fruit
stall in a small but empty market near La Marched noted that she had
to sell her fruits from door to door and on the street to keep her
merchandise from rotting in the market.

     Even in San Ciprian, which by 1994 had been open for four years,
most stalls were still unoccupied, and those vendors who did spend
long hours waiting for the occasional customer to drift through
complained about the difficulty of making their mortgage payments
while at the same time restocking their merchandise, remodeling their
stalls to attract more clients and eking out enough to eat from the
low turnover they experienced. Again, many had to take second jobs, or
close their stalls while they paid it off and saved enough money to
remodel and stock up. That vendors were willing to do so showed that
they thought of the stalls as investments that would hopefully pay off
over the long term, and their willingness to work double shifts (or
triple shifts in the case of many of the vendors who were women) and
to forgo present income is a credit to their entrepreneurial spirit.
But the vast numbers of empty stalls, stalls under repossession and
stalls that were being sold illustrate that many of the vendors simply
could not pay these high prices, and would be forced to look for
employment elsewhere, or back to the street.

     The resale of stalls in itself posed a difficult problem.  While
the stalls were in repayment, resale or even lease of the stall was
ruled out by the mortgage contract. But the number of signs posted by
the FONDEDF to remind vendors that this practice was illegal seemed to
suggest that it was fairly common.  Nevertheless, once a stall was
paid off, there was no limitation on its disposition. Unlike the
public markets constructed previously, in which the stalls were
technically inalienable from their original beneficiaries (but in
which corruption usually made their resale and lease fairly
straightforward), in the new markets someone with sufficient capital
could quite legally buy up all the stalls in any given market, using
various forms of pressure to push the original small vendors out of
the way. (10)

     During this period the associations of street vendors had been
far from defeated. On the contrary, the acknowledged policy of the
city was to work in conjunction with the street vendor leaders as much
as possible. As in the earlier period, most of the markets were
designed for specific associations of vendors, and the leaders were
given a number of significant powers in the process. First, city
officials negotiated directly with the 60 leaders in the Historical
Center as a group and as individuals in designing and setting the
rules for the markets. But more importantly, only vendors who were
accredited members of an association were allowed to purchase space in
the market program.  Thus, since leaders defined membership, leaders
were made the "gatekeepers" of the market program, with the power to
control access to market stalls and to distribute the best stalls to
their friends or those who paid the most for them. Thirdly, it gave
the leaders control over the markets themselves which opened up the
possibility of cacique-type abuse of their powers in detriment of the
small vendors who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of the
program. Finally, it meant that leaders, far from being weakened by
the market construction program that was supposed to destroy the
associations as it made individuals into property owners, were made
more powerful as they gained control of the markets and continued to
have the capacity to threaten to lead a reinvasion of the streets if
they deemed it convenient.  As one official noted, "One of the biggest
problems was that of giving the distribution of stalls to the

     Given the fear among officials that the associations would be
able to successfully stall or fight the market program by simply
refusing to leave the streets, the policy to leave substantial power
in the hands of the associations was a rational one. But it meant that
the associations maintained strict control of the markets in most
cases, with the leaders becoming in many cases the administrators of
the markets themselves. Each market was legally required to form an
executive committee to take care of the maintenance and communal
problems of each market, but given their control over the vendors, the
committees were in almost every case controlled by the associations
that the markets were built for, and the leaders continued to charge
the same fees they had charged on the streets. Some associations
extended their control further by using their own reserves (built up
by vendors' fees over decades) to lend money to vendors for the
downpayment, thus getting control over them as individuals. At the
same time, while officials recognized that the leaders "continue to
benefit because they are left in control of the executive committee",
official policy is that only the vendors themselves can change this
situation, since intervention by the city into the internal affairs of
the markets or associations would be seen as authoritarian and
undemocratic, (despite the fact that the city itself gave control of
the markets to the associations and thus created the authoritarian
nature of the associations).

     But by not attacking the associations, the greatest fears of the
administration could still be realized because, although the leaders
had signed the agreement in the Historical Center, they constantly
threatened that if the new markets did not work to their satisfaction,
they would reinvade the streets in the area. Indeed, the pressure to
do so built up to a crescendo during the weeks before the August 1994
Presidential elections.  One of the most important leaders in the
area, herself a candidate to the ARDF on the part of the PRI, savagely
attacked the city for not living up to its end of the agreement and
argued that this them gave her association a legitimate right to go
back on the agreement. Claiming that she was forced to sign the
agreement, she accused the city of building the markets in cheap
rather than commercial areas, of allowing intensified vending around
the Historical Center, and of creating a new class of "toreros" who
were responsible only to the market inspectors: "They can't sell in
the markets so they are 'toreando', and the (market inspectors) are
the leaders now," collecting daily bribes to allow them to sell.

     A leader of a small association noted that, while he was loyal to
the PRI, "People are thinking ... if after the elections they don't
offer us a solution for the markets they are going to go back to the
streets--whatever opportunity they see they'll take." But they had to
wait for a large association to take the first step: "If I had the
number of people (the large associations) have I would do it. If I did
it now they would squash me with one hand. But I don't know--sometimes
its worth it to take a risk," he added. Furthermore, as this leader
pointed out, the competitiveness among leaders meant that as soon as
one association started to reinvade the streets, the others would be
compelled to follow to prevent other groups of vendors from taking
over the streets that over the years they have considered as "theirs".

     Still, despite their complaints about the market program, none of
the associations that were affiliated with the PRI left the party to
join the opposition in the 1994 elections. Instead, there continued to
be a belief that the PRI still provided the best opportunity for
implementing reforms in the market program that would lower the costs
for vendors. As one vendor noted, after providing a litany of
complaints about his market from its poor location (3 blocks from
their original area), poor design and unfulfilled promises from
officials, "We went to other parties asking for support, but only the
PRI offered to help us."  (11) Still, individual vendors did seem
initially to be more independent in their political behavior. Few of
the new markets put up campaign flyers as had occurred regularly when
the vendors were in the streets, and campaign literature for
opposition parties could even be seen occasionally. But rather than
spelling the end to organizational politics, many leaders felt that
once the elections were over, they could reassert their role either
through pushing for more services for the markets or leading a
reinvasion of the streets. Unfortunately, it is still too early to see
whether the market program will have any substantial effect on the
political organization of street vending, but the small geographical
area of the market program suggests that any effect would be limited.


     The market construction program in Mexico City appears to be a
success so far in "formalizing" street vending in large part because
city officials attempted to "buy off" the leadership structure of the
street vendors by giving leaders full control over the market
program. But by doing so, the administration may just have bargained
away long-term success in dealing with the "problem" of street vending
for the short-term appearance of success for the 1994 elections. The
Historical Center was demonstrably empty of vendors in time for the
elections, but there was no guarantee, in the face of the continued
power of the street vendor associations, that this success would not
unravel rapidly.

     Furthermore, individual vendors had already begun to leave the
markets and the formalization they entailed, escaping back into the
relative safety of the informal street trade setting.  Unfortunately
it is impossible now to know the characteristics of the types of
vendors who chose to stay in the markets as opposed to those who opted


(1) In previous work I have shown how street vending became
politicized during a market construction program during the 1960s in
which vendors were required to organize within civil associations
affiliated with the PRI in order to be allowed to receive temporary
permits to sell in the streets until a market could be built for
them. When the market program finally ended, the "temporary" permits
became by fiat permanent. I have also shown how vendor organization
have used their power over their members to work within the political
system, gaining allies within the political system by operating as
political middlemen.  (see Cross, John "Quitando los Ambulantes de la
Calle: Paralelos Historicos en la Ciudad de Mexico" under review
Estudios Demograficos y Urbanos and Cross, John "Cooptation,
Competition and Resistance: State and Street Vendors in Mexico City"
under review Latin American Perspectives.)

(2) "Informe de Actividades del C. Lic. Ignacio Vazquez Torres,
Delegado en Cuauhtemoc" presented to ARDF June, 1990.

(3) A media blitz against vendors in the Metro system and in the
Historical Center began at the same time, using negative coverage in
newspapers and even prime-time television news shows, which a high
official boasted about helping to organize.

(4) The authoritarian nature of the street vendor leadership is due to
the fact that membership in the associations is required of individual
vendors before they can get a permit. Furthermore, areas are assigned
to the associations rather than to individual vendors. Thus, the
association leaders can manipulate the allocation of space within
their area to benefit their own supporters and to even exclude
enemies, securing their own position and in many cases a lucrative
living. On the other hand, this power also enables then to force
everyone in the area to contribute to attempts to defend and expand
the area available to the association and to support key political
allies--more than anything else explaining both the utility of street
vendors to the PRI historically and the power that street vendors have
often had to thwart administrative attempts to control them.

(5) Later, however, officials noted more optimistically that, while
the vendors had refused to purchase the market stalls, the city had
been able to push them off their original positions on the surrounding

(6) It is not clear to what degree stores actually supported
Gazal. Street vendor leaders claimed that Gazal used intimidation
tactics to force stores to close and claim nominal membership in his
organization. Gazal himself claimed a membership in the thousands,
which he was unable to substantiate.

(7) Officially, the market stall itself, as a form of condominium real
estate, was the only form of security for the individual loans that
vendors incurred. For a few markets that were located on Metro
property that could not be alienated, vendors were not owners but
merely lessees, and the lease itself had to suffice as the security.

(8) Newspaper and book stalls have special protection under Mexican
law and are jealously protected by publishers.

(9) Many vendors said they had borrowed money to pay the downpayments
on their stalls--usually between USD $500 to USD $1,000--and now had
to pay between USD $150 to USD $300 a month.  For many this was more
than they paid for their residence costs, and was far more than they
had paid when they were on the streets. The fact that earnings were
now much lower was therefore quite catastrophic for many.

(10) In San Ciprian vendors noted that several groups had begun to buy
up stalls in the market, but were keeping the stalls closed. The most
probable reason is that by so doing, they kept the value of the market
low, since more open stalls would attract more customers. Keeping the
stalls closed decreased the commercial value of the market as a whole
and thus the resale value of the stalls the buyers were after, as well
as pushing the small vendors into bankruptcy. It must be remembered
that, while many markets were failures for small vendors because they
were often poorly designed and advertised, they are all located in
prime commercial and business areas in the center of the city where
land values are potentially astronomical.

(11) Surprisingly, given the problems they faced caused by a PRI-led
government, many of the vendors I talked to just before the elections
in these markets expressed their support for the PRI, either seeing it
as the only option or citing past favors they had received from the
official party.