On 25and 26 October, over 400 military police moved into the early market area in Bras, Central Sao Paolo to break up stands and confiscate goods of the over 7000 street vendors who work there between 2am and 6pm. The market is a large commercial hub and attracts up to 30,000 persons every day, including wholesale buyers from other States of Brazil, such as Belo Horizonte, Curitiba and Parana. It has been operating for the last 8 years. Normally, over 200 tour buses visit the area on a daily basis. That number was reduced drastically as news of the police action was reported on the main TV channels and newspapers.
Street vendors were shocked at the intransigent attitude of the Municipal authorities and the police brutality. The Trade Union of Independent Street Vendors of Sao Paolo (SINCISP), organised a peaceful protest march through the area calling out “street vendors are not thieves”. The union’s legal advisers, Lessi and Lessi, state that there were clear cases of abuse of authority by the police officers, including documented cases of vendors who were badly beaten and bruised.
Leonardo Dunas, the Secretary General of SINCISP, argues that the market has been operating with the tacit agreement of both the shop owners in the area and the municipality over many years. As well, the Municipal By-Laws allow street vending. The market currently generates employment for thousands of families. The trade union has called on the Municipal authorities to regulate and formalize the market operations, which would benefit both the vendors and the public authorities.
While SINCISP condemns the few vendors who trade in counterfeit goods, the great majority of vendors are trading legal merchandise. The police action has effectively left them without a source of income for their families. SINCISP, together with the Organizing Commission of Street Vendors of Sao Paolo and other organisations, have put forward a series of proposals concerning the regulation of the market, including training courses for vendors, the possibility to register as a micro-business, access to micro-credits and amendments to municipal by-laws. To date, the municipal authorities are not willing to discuss these proposals.
“It seems there may be political interests at play. There are plans to develop the area and build a hotel and commercial complex. Certainly, some investors might have the 2014 World Cup in mind, we don’t know”, said Leornardo Dunas. “We are here to denounce policy brutality, to defend the right to work, and the rights of thousands of families who want to make an honest living,” he added.