SANTIAGO – A large group of street vendors took to the streets today to protest violence committed by Chilean policemen. Last week, a street vendor died while being on the run from the police. For the Chilean government, street trade is a problem that has only increased the last few years.
The protest, held around Metro Universidad de Chile on Santiago’s main street La Alameda, was aimed against the excessive violence used by Carabineros. A few days ago, an Ecuadorian street vendor died after getting hit by a bus, while running from the police.
The Chilean government, through the Carabineros, is fighting a battle against illegal street trade, as authorities link the presence of street vendors in public spaces to criminal activities. Despite all efforts, especially in the capital Santiago, street trade has been increasing in Chile.
According to a Public Safety Report of the Metropolitan Region in 2017, 35,597 cases of street trade were reported in the region that year, an increase of 53% compared to 2016, when 23,223 cases were reported.
“Street trade affects public safety”
During the presentation of that report, authorities already signaled they needed to get tougher on street trade, as Óscar Carrasco, Undersecretary of Crime Prevention, told La Tercera. “Although many times they are not doing anything criminal, they affect public safety.”
In the same article, the director of Justice and Reintegration of the Paz Ciudadana Foundation, Ana María Morales, said that “the increase of street trade in public space should be looked at carefully for several reasons. It is an illegal activity that is often fed by an active market of stolen goods that affect people and retail.”
Street trade increases when unemployment goes up
Although the increase in street trade is often linked to crime, others see the increase in unemployment as the reason why more people are looking for so-called informal employment. In 2017, 2.5 million Chileans worked in the informal sector. Street trade is a big part of that informal sector in Chile.
An academic study by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, looking at the correlation between unemployment and street trade, saw that the harder it was for people to find a job, the faster the illegal street trade sector grew.
According to the latest statistics, unemployment in Chile increased by 0.3% and is now at 6.8%. Following the mentioned investigation from Colombia, the increase in unemployment should mean that street trade is growing as well. The question that remains for local, regional, and national authorities is, Does it help to punish those who are trying to find a way to eat?
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and made appearances on BBC World Services and ABC News during major events in Chile.