Documents on Mexican Politics.



                      JOHN C. CROSS, Ph.D.
                     Professor of Sociology
                The American University in Cairo

         Under Review in Estudios Demograficos y Urbanos

Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the support of David
Lopez of UCLA and Francisco Marmolejo and Fernando Gonzalez of the
Universidad de las Americas. I would also like to thank Lic.
Alcantara of Coabasto for providing valuable information from that
institution. Support for this research was provided by the UCLA
Program on Mexico, the National Science Foundation, The U.S. Mexico
Fulbright program and the Organization of American States.
     The recent relocation of about 10,000 ambulatory vendors
     from the streets of Mexico City's Historical Center into
     newly constructed markets, has been compared by officials
     to the massive market construction program carried out by
     Ernesto P. Uruchurtu during his regency from 1952 to
     1966. This article investigates this parallel by looking
     closely at the policies and practices of Uruchurtu with
     reference to street vendors. It is argued that these
     policies had the effect of politicizing street vending by
     forcing vendors to organize within the PRI and
     established a series of practices that essentially
     guaranteed the rights of such organized vendors to
     markets. Once the market program was halted for economic
     and political reasons, these policies and practices
     combined to create the subsequent enormous growth in
     street vending and the powerful street vendor
     organizations that continue to elude government attempts
     to control them today.

     The government of Mexico City, the Department of the Federal
District (DDF), has recently finished one of the most politically
sensitive operations of the sexenio of Salinas de Gortari: the
relocation of approximately 10,000 ambulatory vendors (street vendors)
from the streets of the Historical Center into almost 40 market
buildings. The process has been long and difficult. Planning in a
broad sense dates back more than a decade, reflected in numerous
studies over that period on the type, quantity and location of
vendors. The 1985 earthquake sparked a search by several agencies to
see whether vendors would fit into urban lots made available by the
collapse or condemnation of earthquake- damaged buildings. But real
planning did not begin until after the 1991 elections, when a strong
showing for the PRI gave the government a relatively free hand with
vendors who had been among their most loyal political supporters
during the economic and political crisis of the 1980s.

     This recent success seems all the more remarkable in the face of
the consistent failure of the city's attempts to control street
vending in the last decades as the number of street vending has grown
despite dozens of administrative proposals to limit or reverse that
growth. Even the refusal of the city to grant new permits to street
vendors since 1984 and the formation of the Coordinaci"n de Abasto
Popular (COABASTO) the following year to organize and reduce the
phenomena did not prevent the number of vendors from doubling over the
subsequent decade, usually with the knowledge and even the support of
elected and administrative officials.

     The difficulty of controlling vending has led many observers to
claim that street vendors are a "mafia" that is able to manipulate
officials to do their bidding (Baca 1990), and many officials admit in
private that street vendor leaders are so well organized politically
that it is extremely difficult for city agencies operating alone to
take any effective action against them.  Street vendor leaders proudly
boast of their relations with high level politicians and officials,
while some have themselves been elected to office or are invited with
other local dignitaries to presidential receptions. The power of
leaders is based upon the fact that, possibly more than any other city
in the world, Mexico City's vendors are extraordinarily well
organized, since city policy is to only provide "tolerances" for
vendors who have joined a preexisting organization or formed a new
one. Thus, the leaders of the diverse organizations, some with up to
7,000 members, can compel their members to pay high fees and to attend
political rallies by threatening to suspend or cancel their
membership, which would effectively prevent them from selling on the
streets at all.  These practices have been observed on numerous
occasions by the author and are a constant source of comments and
complaints by vendors themselves.

     While the relocation in the Historical Center appears so far to
be successful, it still leaves some 180 thousand vendors on the
streets of the Federal District between "fixed stalls", "semi-fixed
stalls", "toreros", and "tianguis" of the colonias and comercial zones
in the rest of the city. If the DDF wants to eliminate street vending
in all its territory, as seems to be the case according to my own
personal interviews with high-level officials of the DDF over the last
two years and as Lic. Albores Guillen, Director of COABASTO, commented
to the Wall Street Journal in 1993 (November 16, 1993, p A18), it will
have to confront this greater problem. And whether it can do so will
depend as much on its understanding of street vending itself as on the
history of the relations between street vendors and the state.

     This article will focus on the second question. By analyzing the
last historical period in which street vendors were effectively
relocated from the streets to market buildings, during the regency of
Ernesto P. Uruchurtu, I will show the limitations of the state's
policy towards street vendors. The central questions in this analysis
are the following: How did state officials manage to relocate street
vendors into market buildings? and, Why did these policies fail in the
long-term? These questions are important not only because they
illuminate the problems that city officials faced in this earlier
period, but also because, as this paper will argue, the difficulty of
controlling street vending today stems to a large degree from the very
mechanisms by which the state attempted to control street vending
during the Uruchurtu period.

     Many have noted the historical parallel between the present
market construction program and that of the government of Ernesto
P. Uruchurtu, the so-called "Regent of Iron" who dominated the Federal
District during an unparalleled 14 years between 1952 and
1966. Appointed to the post of Regent of the Federal District by three
presidents in a row, Uruchurtu left his mark by, among other things,
building 150 market buildings to house almost 55,000 street vendors
during his regency. Uruchurtu's methods in "modernizing" Mexico City
were frequently brutal, involving the harassment, illegal imprisonment
and beating of street vendors and "paracaidistas", land invaders who's
illegal occupation of land was spurred by the strict limits that
Uruchurtu put on the growth of the urban area of the city despite its
rapidly growing population (Cornelius 1977). Indeed, Uruchurtu was
finally chased out of office after ordering the razing of a "invasion"
community, suggesting the high level of conflict between his
administration and the "informal" subsistence activities of the poor.

     Still, while his authoritarian actions towards the poorest
members of society eventually led to his downfall, he was still seen
as an ideal political figure by the middle and upper classes for whom
the order imposed by Uruchurtu, however brutally, had its own
merit. As the Excelsior editorialized after Uruchurtu's resignation
was demanded by a Congress stoked by public opinion:

     "We remember that before Uruchurtu we metropolitans came to
     believe that the ever-present dirtiness in our markets and the
     quality of "z"cos" (open air markets) that were in our most
     central streets were just part of our national
     idiosyncracies..." (Excelsior 9/15/66)

     It is this image of Uruchurtu that today's political leadership
wish to be compared with--the Uruchurtu who cleared the city's
sidewalks of vendors. But the failure of Uruchurtu's legacy is evident
in the fact that, while the markets he built still stand, the city's
streets are again filled with vendors. Is this fact simply the result
of later bureaucratic incompetence, or did Uruchurtu's policies
themselves help create the basis for the powerful vendor organizations
that make the control of street vending so difficult today?

                     THE LEGACY OF URUCHURTU

     First, it is necessary to review the objective legacy of
Uruchurtu: the market construction program itself. Street vending had
been on the decline in Mexico City before World War II, when it took
on fresh life as a way of skirting price controls and rationing
(Vasquez Torres 1991). After the war, a new regulation for street
vending was passed for the Federal District permitting the
establishment of special vending zones through a procedure to be
regulated by the Market Office of the Treasury of the DDF. The law,
passed in June 1951, has been cited as the justification for
preventing vending in the "historical center" and other areas of the
city, but in fact its provisions were very liberal. The only outright
prohibition is on the sale of livestock in the area of the Z"calo and
the placement of stalls within 3 meters of a street corner. Other
provisions, such as a section that forbids "obstructing traffic" were
designed to be interpreted administratively (Mexico 1951).

     But the law was never implemented as such. Upon entering office
in December of 1952, Uruchurtu simply outlawed street vending by
administrative fiat. Within a week he ordered the city center cleared
of its 2,100 vendors, who were required to relocate into a recently
constructed but empty market building, despite the fact that the 1,000
stall market was far from sufficient to handle all the displaced
vendors. Still, as newspaper editorials trumpeted, the new Regent
appeared to accomplish in a few days what previous administrations had
been claiming for years could not be done--he had cleared the downtown
area of vendors, and before his first month of office was over he
extended the ban to the rest of the city as well. His authoritarian
style gained the new Regent the reputation of a decisive leader--and
earned him the moniker of "Regent of Iron". The press acclaimed him
profusely--an editorial cartoon in the Excelsior showed him as an
American football player rushing a football marked D.F. (Federal
District) irrepressibly towards the end zone, while the caption read,
"May he never stop!".

     But the decision to abolish street vending had been made without
any negotiation or planning, and the resultant backlash forced the
city to modify its plans subject to the availability of suitable
alternatives. 2,000 of those affected by the city-wide ban staged an
occupation of the city offices and the Director of the Market Office,
Gonzalo Pe$a Manterola, was compelled to personally lead a search for
"alternative" sites for the displaced vendors (Excelsior 12/18/52). In
fact, the city was forced to allow street vending in most areas until
markets could be built to accommodate the vendors in adequate

     Like the government today, Uruchurtu made use of a number of
rhetorical claims about the "evils" of street vending to justify his
strong action against them in the face of recent legislation that
basically legalized the activity. Today street vendors are accused of
everything from causing "disloyal" competition for "legitimate"
stores, avoiding taxes, to causing air pollution and a general public
health threat. Foremost among the rhetoric used against street vendors
by Uruchurtu was that they caused traffic congestion and were the
cause of inflation because of the purported effect of

     Rather then simply forcing street vendors to give up their trade
and replacing them with modern supermarkets, which would have dealt
efficiently with the perceived problem of "intermediarism", Uruchurtu
began an ambitious program for the construction of covered market
buildings to house the vendors who were displaced by the above
orders. The markets were built from public funds and rented to the
vendors at a symbolic cost, officially in order to reduce the cost to
the final consumer but, more importantly, to "bribe" vendors into
moving off the streets without resistance. As an official who entered
public service at the time explained, in order to entice the vendors
into the markets Uruchurtu gave them refrigerators, scales, "...and
even then he gave them the maintenance and care of their merchandise
with guards, the light, the water..." and many of their other needs
included in their nominal rents.

     In the market area of La Merced, at that time the largest outdoor
market area of the city, market space was constructed for 6,727
vendors. In the area known as La Lagunilla, 2,036 vendors were
accommodated and in the commercial area of Tepito 4,488 vendors were
placed in market structures. All of these were inaugurated in 1957,
although in some cases previous market structures for far fewer
vendors had existed before and been replaced. Altogether, in 1957
alone 18,414 vendors were relocated into 36 markets, and between 1953
and 1966 a total 174 markets were constructed or reconstructed for
52,070 vendors raising the number of markets in the Federal District
from 44 to over 200. This level of market construction has never been
repeated, and the markets built during this period accounted for 77.6%
of the 67,066 market stalls in the city in 1993, 26 years after
Uruchurtu. Even these figures underestimate the contribution of
Uruchurtu to the present- day public market system in Mexico City
since over a dozen markets were in the process of final planning or
construction when Uruchurtu was removed from office.

                      [FIGURE 1 ABOUT HERE]

     Figure 1 gives an idea of the immensity and singularity of this
undertaking. It shows the number of vendor stalls in markets and
concentrations inaugurated between 1953 and 1991 by presiden- tial
term. The first two terms, the effective period of Uruchurtu's reign
(1953 to 1958 and 1959 to 1964), account for 69 and 90 markets
respectively. The 1953 to 58 period accounts for the greatest number
of vendors (29,179 as compared to 20,911 in the second) because of the
huge size of many of the markets. After Uruchurtu was removed from
office, however, the role of the city in market construction was
radically reduced. Instead, as the graph shows, a growing emphasis was
placed upon "concentrations"-- permanent markets which are recognized
by the city but which are constructed by vendors themselves. In fact,
many of the "markets" in the later period were in fact
vendor-constructed concentrations that were re-designated as markets
by officials eager to show their industriousness. But even the
combined growth of markets and concentrations is less than spectacular
in the late 60s and 70s, and both appear to die out in the 80s.

     But if the market construction program, with their refrigeration
units, childcare centers, security, lighting, running water and other
"modern conveniences" were the carrot designed to entice vendors off
the street, Uruchurtu also wielded a big stick-- street vendors who
refused or were unable to enter the markets were faced with the most
severe police repression in the modern history of the
city. Guillermina Rico, who was too young to qualify for a stall in La
Mercd when the market was constructed there in 1957, explained
what happened as she stubbornly continued to sell on the street to
help support her family:

     "Then those of us who were left out stayed to suffer: 36
     hours, 15 days, draggings, kickings and beatings... They threw
     us in jail for 36 hours, and the children were sent to the
     orphanage... Many of the (street) merchants didn't know
     prison, but they got to know it for being merchants, for
     earning their living honestly."

Marta , a vendor who started selling during the last years of
Uruchurtu's reign, comments:

     "... there was no permission to sell, so since the (street
     inspector) trucks arrived, we had to find a way of working
     early. We worked from 5 to 7:30 in the morning because the
     trucks arrived and removed us. At first they just took the
     people, and the things were left thrown on the ground. But
     later, since the government saw that some kept selling, they
     changed their system again. Then they came back and they took
     all the merchandise. They let us go free, but they took your
     merchandise. Everything, they took everything, whether it was
     money or the merchandise, everything there was..."

     A high level of repression was a crucial aspect of the market
construction program. Since commercial patterns had become established
in the streets, vendors would not enter the markets unless the city
could guarantee that their old sales areas would not be taken over by
new vendors who could steal their clients.  Once they were given this
guarantee, the associations of street vendors agreed to enter the
markets in mass, and usually markets would be designed and constructed
for a single association of vendors. Thus, vendors who decided to stay
in the street were left without any organizational representation or
force to resist the repression against them. All they could do was to
attempt to avoid the repression, as these women did.

                     COLLAPSE OF THE LEGACY

     Despite the apparent middle and upper class support for his
actions against street vendors, when Uruchurtu was removed in 1966
both the construction program and the repressive policies towards
street vending ceased. If we are to understand why these policies
failed to survive Uruchurtu, we have to have a broader understanding
of the economic and political benefits and costs that they incurred
for the Mexican political system of the time, and the role that the
policies were designed to play in Uruchurtu's own career.

     Uruchurtu was a close friend of President Miguel Aleman with whom
he went through college and served as campaign manager and
confidant. In 1952, he was appointed to head the Federal District by
President Ruiz Cortines in a move that is largely seen as a compromise
between the outgoing and incoming presidents to attempt to maintain
some powerful positions within the cabinet for Alemanistas (supporters
of Miguel Aleman). There is less agreement as to why he was
reappointed by Adolfo Lopez Mateos 6 years later.  One argument is
that it represented continued power on the part of Miguel Aleman. An
alternative explanation would simply be that Uruchurtu--who himself
was a pre-candidate for the presidency--had become so powerful that
Lopez Mateos couldn't get rid of him.

     Lopez Mateos was selected as a compromise candidate over
Uruchurtu because the latter was too identified with Aleman's
supporters within the government, and thus was rejected by the
supporters of Cardenas, the powerful left-wing president of the
1930s. But he was a weak president who was dominated by the
Alamanistas and Cardenistas in his cabinet. Uruchurtu, on the other
hand, had a long history in administrative positions in the PRI and in
state and national government, and had a powerful cadre of allies.

     In 1964 Uruchurtu was again a pre-candidate for the presidency on
behalf of the PRI, however, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz was elected and many
argue that tensions between the two figures were apparent from the
beginning, although Uruchurtu was again reappointed to the position of
head of the DDF. While Uruchurtu's conservative stance was similar to
that of Diaz Ordaz, his power as Regent and behind the scenes became a
threat to the President's authority. As one scholarly work in its
discussion of the conflict between these two political figures notes:

     "A President generally guards the expectation that his
     collaborators will not exceed him in power, so that he can
     shine (destacar) personally." (Lerner de Sheinbaum & Ralsky de
     Cimet 1976: 395)

     It is highly significant, however, that the final downfall of
Uruchurtu was precipitated by his continuing policies against
informal-economy linked movements within the capital city. Besides his
attacks on street vending, Uruchurtu was also known for his harsh
repression of land invaders, who thwarted his attempt to limit urban
growth and imposed high costs on the city for the purchase of land and
provision of urban services in areas that were often only marginally
habitable or virtually unserviceable due to topographic features or
soil conditions. But his practice of ordering such communities to be
razed was an unpopular one which provoked many ideological problems
for the PRI. When the city bulldozed a community of 400 land invaders
during a downpour four days before the "grito" of independence
(September 15, 1966), members of congress lined up to denounce the act
and the PRI skillfully distanced Uruchurtu from the President before
censuring him and forcing his resignation. During the congressional
debate, land invaders and street vendors were both held up as noble
victims of the cruelty of Uruchurtu's policies. One columnist argued
that the attacks on street vendors had formed part of the Uruchurtu's
"dictatorial pattern" against "...the poor indigenous women who in the
use of their inalienable right of survival sold their miserable
merchandise on the urban sidewalk." (Carlos Alvarez Acevedo, Excelsior
9/15/66:7A) Four powerful worker unions affiliated with the PRI,
including the CTM and the Federation of Revolutionary Workers (FOR),
also attacked the "...injustice that is committed against the humble
merchants, ambulatory vendors, who are imprisoned and whose goods are
confiscated." (Excelsior 9/15/66:1A)

     The paradox here is that Uruchurtu's policies towards street
vending--the construction of markets and the resultant necessary
repression of vendors--was originally a key component of his power
base. Not only did the policy please the middle classes and provide a
substantial source of lucrative contracts for the Mexican construction
industry, it also enabled Uruchurtu to organize and manipulate street
vendors politically for his own purposes.


     One section of the 1951 market regulation allowed street vendors
to form voluntary civil associations to represent their interests and,
to prevent city officials from ignoring them, required that the Market
Office recognize them as long as they had at least 100 members. After
Uruchurtu realized he could not just "ban" street vending overnight,
but had to construct markets for their relocation, he had to decide
how to construct markets for the thousands of independent vendors who
existed throughout the city.  Very astutely, he laid down a policy
that only "recognized" groups of at least 100 street vendors would
have a market constructed for them. More importantly, only such groups
would be allowed to sell on the street pending completion of their
market: vendors who were not members of "recognized" associations
would therefore be repressed.

     Administratively, the civil associations enabled city officials
and market administrators to negotiate with a single body of vendors
that represented--or at least could be held accountable for--all the
vendors in a given street or market. Politically, the civil
associations were also obliged to affiliate with the PRI and support
political actions on behalf of that party. More importantly, Uruchurtu
used the associations to advance his own career. The skillful
manipulation of the market construction program was already paying off
powerfully in the political realm by 1958. On February 12 of that year
a rally of 40,000 market stall- holders and their families showed up
for a huge political rally in support of Lopez Mateos, and the head of
the PRI in the federal district, Rodolfo Gonzalez Guevara, noted that
the 1958 campaign was the first in which small merchants had played a
substantial role--something he attributed directly to the market
construction program. More significant was the fact that leaders of
the market vendors overtly connected their support for Lopez Mateos
with his promise to continue Uruchurtu's policies within the city.
(Excelsior, 2/1/58 and 2/15/58)

     The timing of the inauguration of markets during the two
presidential terms in which Uruchurtu served as the Regent of the
Federal District further indicates that the inaugurations were
calculated to garner immediate good will and support for himself and
the PRI. By comparing the number of vendors who received a stall
during each two-year section of the sexenios of Ruiz Cortines and
Lopez Mateos, when Uruchurtu was in full charge of the Federal
District, it becomes clear that the last two-year period of each
sexenio--the period directly before the presidential elections-- were
the object of a much higher than normal level of market construction.

                      [FIGURE 2 ABOUT HERE]

     As Figure 2 shows, 78% of all new market vendors during the Ruiz
Cortines presidency received their stalls in the last two years of
that sexenio. Likewise, 61% of all new market vendors during the Diaz
Ordaz sexenio received their stall during the same two-year
phase. More striking, in subsequent presidential terms, after
Uruchurtu was forced out of office, the proportion of market stalls
constructed during the last two-year period drops to around 33%--the
expected random occurrence. This suggests that Uruchurtu deliberately
planned the construction of markets to coincide with the period just
prior to presidential elections as a political tool. The fact that
this policy declined significantly after the Uruchurtu period ended
demonstrates that the market program had ceased to be useful in this

     It was in fact this very politicization of the market program and
of street vending that ultimately spelled the doom of the program
itself. Because while the markets were used to entice vendors into the
PRI, this practice was self-limited by four factors. These will be
mentioned here, and will be discussed in depth in the next
section. First, while the policy of market construction had created a
large pool of associations loyal to the PRI, this was obtained at a
huge financial cost. Secondly, by 1966 the vast majority of street
vendors were either in market structures, or had rejected them in
favor of a return to the street.  Thirdly, there was a tendency for
support from market vendors to decline over time. Finally, the
enormous subsidy of market vendors led to profiteering by vendors and
actually led consumers to request the return of street markets.



     The market construction program cost an enormous sum of money to
build and then maintain a complex system of markets at virtually no
cost to the occupants and direct beneficiaries of the markets
themselves. While exact figures are impossible to find even for
present-day maintenance costs (although it is important to note that
present-day market vendors have balked at a program of "privatization"
of the markets that would saddle them with maintenance costs),
President Ruiz Cortines announced that between 1953 and 1958 alone,
$350 million pesos were spent building or refurbishing almost 90
covered markets to house vendors, over 7 times the expenditure for the
building of new schools in a period of 6% annual population growth,
and the equivalent of slightly over half of the entire budget for the
Federal District in 1957 ("Texto del Reporte Presidencial" Excelsior
9/2/58). Such an enormous fiscal drain on the city's resources could
only be justified if the markets could be argued to produce
substantial political benefits, which at first were forthcoming but
later dwindled.


     Uruchurtu never completely eliminated streetvending. While street
vendors seemed pleased with the market construction program at first,
the markets were simply not profitable for many vendors, who began a
slow process of returning to the streets. A number of reasons
accounted for this fact: 1) The lack of adequate marketing planning
for the new commercial center, 2) resistance to the greater level of
control over vendors in the markets, and 3) changes in the nature of
commercialization due the change of locale from the public
thoroughfare to the enclosed market buildings.

     Constructed on available lots or areas of cheap land values, the
markets were usually not as centrally located as the streetmarkets
they replaced, meaning that fewer clients came to them. While new
clienteles were built up over time, many vendors seem to have left
during this initial phase. In addition, the symbolic rents were by no
means the only cost of entering the markets: besides the continuation
of corruption (many of the administrators were ex-police officers, and
highly susceptible to such activity (Eckstein 1977)) city officials
also used the markets to gain control over the commercial activities
of the vendors in ways they found difficult or impossible to control
in the street, such as imposing regular hours and regulating "giros"
or product lines. A third factor was that the simple change of locale
from the public thoroughfare to a market changed the nature of
selling.  Because of its location in public space, a street market is
not just a place of private economic transactions: it is a place of
socialization, a place to eat, to see and be seen, to chat with
neighbors and friends, and a place to see what is available, and what
takes one's fancy. On the other hand, public markets are more
constraining in the sense that the closed space gives a sense of alien
proprietorship, and one must therefore have a specific "purpose" to be
there. Again, this required vendors to adapt their marketing strategy,
an adaptation that few were prepared for.

     For these and other reasons, the relocation of thriving
streetmarkets into closed markets damaged the commercial allure of
whole neighborhoods. By mid-1953, even the established merchants of
swanky Polanco were urging the city to let street vendors come back,
because they claimed their sales had dropped by 50% while other
neighborhoods where vendors had remained experienced an increase in
sales ("Distrito Federal" in Excelsior, 6/20/53). Many vendors from
this period whom I interviewed claimed they suffered even greater
losses and their savings were depleted. Some took to selling
door-to-door, some had to get factory jobs, while others simply went
to areas where markets were under construction to make a business out
of getting a stall for free and reselling it after a few weeks.

     A good example is presented by the working class area of Tepito
which, located near the downtown area and one kilometer from the
Z"calo, had grown into a major streetmarket area since late in the
last century (V zquez Torres 1991). Used goods of frequently dubious
legal origin--giving the area the name of the "thieves market"--were
sold from wooden shacks constructed in the middle of the street that
in many cases also doubled as homes. These vendors presented few
protests when the markets were constructed and their stalls and homes
were destroyed in 1957, but Alfonso Hern ndez Hern ndez, a Tepito
historian and an official in the Cuauhtemoc Delegation, maintains that
after three years vendors began leaving the markets, faced with the
prospect of complete financial ruin if they stayed in them. In some
cases they sold their rights to their stalls, in others they just left
the stalls vacant--giving up all right to them. One of the Tepito
markets--which now successfully bills itself as the "worlds largest
shoe market" after each of its 700 stalls began specializing in
shoes--is now reportedly controlled by seven families who bought out
most other vendors as they left the market.


     Even for those vendors who remained in the markets, their
affiliation with the PRI provided no guarantee that they would
continue to be as active in their support as they were at first.
While at first market vendors could be counted upon as a powerful
support base, they had little need to continue to support the PRI once
their titles were secure. Once given, the stalls could not be easily
taken away, and thus the PRI had little effective threat against the
market vendors with which to maintain their loyalty. On the other
hand, since streetvendors never gain any form of legal title over
their "spaces" on the street, they are compelled by their lack of
security to constant political activity to retain their "rights". The
only "service" that the PRI could offer to the market vendors, on the
other hand, was to keep rental payments symbolic, thus preventing the
city from recouping the enormous cost of the market program.


     Finally, one of the principal rhetorical reasons for taking
action against street vending was to attack the problem of
"intermediarism" and the "congested commercial system" that Uruchurtu
alleged was the root cause of inflation. Obviously, the simple
shifting of petty retailers from the street to covered markets could
do nothing to solve the "problem" of intermediarism, since the vendors
purchased from the same suppliers for the most part. On the other
hand, the official justification for the enormous subsidy of petty
retailing that the construction program entailed was that this would
lower the cost to consumers in "popular" areas. But since Uruchurtu's
policy was also to reduce "unfair" competition against the markets
from street vendors and even supermarkets (to protect their economic
and political investment in the market vendors), there was simply no
incentive for the market vendors to lower their prices or even to
rationalize their purchasing and merchandising strategies to be able
to lower prices. As one official who joined the market office in 1968
commented to me: "90% of the merchants that have been selling (in the
markets) for 20, 30 or 40 years have become very wealthy because the
government has given them everything." Rather than passing along their
savings, the lack of competition allowed the market vendors to simply
amass wealth at the expense of the consumer, which was not lost on the
neighbors of many markets, who frequently complained of the high
prices and poor service, and in many cases requested that street
vending be renewed to lower prices.

     The above factors reinforced each other to produce a steady
reduction of the political rate of return from the market construction
program over time. While the construction and administrative costs
mounted, the political benefits dwindled until the fantastic
expenditures no longer made sense. At the same time, the market
construction program implied a massive enforcement campaign to force
street vendors into the markets on the one hand and to prevent them
from competing with the markets on the other.  Thus, even while the
market construction program produced steadily reduced political
benefits in terms of decreasing support from market vendors, it
produced more and more political liabilities on the other hand in
terms of its attacks on street vendors. In a word, these policies were
no longer politically or economically viable. The street vendors that
existed were no longer amenable to entering markets, and by enforcing
stiff laws against them the PRI only succeeded in alienating them
while the city administration-- and by extension the national
administration--merely looked authoritarian and dictatorial on the
national and international level.

     One must also consider the broader political aspects of the
Mexican political scene. A decade and a half of growth had woken
hopes of improvement in both political and economic aspects of the
Mexican domestic scene--neither of which were nearly as fast coming
as had been anticipated. At the same time, political control had
been virtually monopolized by the right-wing of the PRI with a
succession of anti-populist presidents. Growing political unrest
began during this period, particularly among the middle-classes.
The student movement--which ultimately was repressed by the army in
a massacre costing hundreds of lives in July of 1968--already had
a strong and growing presence. As Cornelius notes (1975), it was
simply not possible for the state to continue alienating a growing
proportion of the "popular" classes during this period. Just as the
PRI became intimately involved in land invasion issues during this
period, so it also needed to find allies, not enemies, among the
street vendors. 

     Thus, Uruchurtu's market construction program had changed from
being a political asset to the PRI in 1958 to a financial and
political liability of huge proportions by 1966. The razing of a
community of land invaders was not simply an excuse to get rid of a
political rival, but a symptom of the very danger that Uruchurtu posed
for the regime. He now got in the way of the PRI's attempts to cement
support among the lower classes because of his refusal to allow land
invaders or street vendors to become incorporated within the
political-administrative structure.

     But the market construction program, as it was implemented by
Uruchurtu, established two precedents that are crucial in explaining
the power of street vendors today. First, by requiring street vendors
to be members of a civil association in order to be considered for a
market stall or to be "tolerated" in the street, Uruchurtu laid the
groundwork for today's powerful street vendor unions. Instead of the
"voluntary" civil associations envisioned by the 1951 market
regulation, Uruchurtu's policies gave complete power to association
leaders over their members, since it gave them, rather than the city,
the ultimate power over the livelihood of the individual vendor, who
could not get a stall or a "tolerance" without the leader's blessing.

     Secondly, Uruchurtu's policies not only firmly centered the
market vendors within the PRI, they also provided a model which future
associations could follow of exchanging loyalty to a political patron
(usually within the PRI, but later also within other parties) for
reciprocal support of their "right" to a market or a street. Above
all, street vendors learned that if they could hold onto an area for
long enough, the city would recognize their "right" to it, or, the
next best thing, construct a market for them nearby.


     In drama a true tragedy is one in which a fatal flaw in the
nature of the principal character twists his noble intentions into
tragic results. That is, a true tragedy is one in which the antagonist
is defeated not by nature or by his fellow man, but by himself. All
the elements that made the attempt to eliminate street vending a
failure, and which continue to do so today, essentially originate with
the particular policies that Uruchurtu implemented to obtain the
double goals of eliminating street vending while creating a dependent
client group of market vendors supportive of his own political
career. These objectives required Uruchurtu to embark on an ambitious
program of market construction while at the same time conducting the
harshest policy of repression against street vending in modern Mexican
history. Over time, it was the demands of these two policies in
themselves that led in large part to Uruchurtu's downfall.

     But the more important legacy of Uruchurtu is the way that he
helped pattern the relations between street vendors and the city that
later allowed street vending to re-emerge with a vengeance. It was
never the intention of the new city officials who replaced Uruchurtu
to allow the spectacular growth of street vending that occurred in the
following three decades. Rather, they simply wanted to reverse a
situation that had become politically untenable for the PRI and
economically untenable for the state. However, Uruchurtu's policies
had radically politicized street vending by using the market
construction program as an incentive for street vendors to organize
within the PRI and as a reward for loyalty towards his own political
objectives. His successors, in order to capitalize on the political
benefits of organizing street vendors in the same way that Uruchurtu
had organized market vendors, made the fatal mistake of continuing to
apply the letter of his policies without their spirit, and thus
continuing to foment the creation of street vendor organizations.

     What occurred soon after Uruchurtu was forced to resign from
office is that the market construction program was scrapped in favor
of new programs, such as the Metro. But officials continued to compel
groups of vendors to organize into associations that had to prove
their loyalty to the PRI in order to be "tolerated" in the
streets. For example, by 1968, already over 10,000 vendors were
authorized to sell in "tianguis" (Pyle 1978). Officials hid the fact
that they were allowing street vending to re-emerge with the fiction
that the groups were being "tolerated" only until markets were built,
essentially applying the letter of Uruchurtu's policies but denying
the spirit since neither the officials nor the vendors had any
interest in the construction of the markets. Still, as noted at the
beginning of the article, by compelling street vendors to form or join
associations, the city gave the associations the ultimate power over
individual vendors, allowing the leaders of the associations to use
their members in any way they saw necessary in order to defend their
interests--increasing their memberships, increasing their space on the
street, and ultimately increasing the "phenomena" of street vending to
a level unprecedented in Mexican history.

(Raw data from DDF-Coabasto 1991)

(Raw data from DDF-Coabasto 1991)



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