Manteros. Photo via Parabuenosaires

This morning the city’s harsh crackdown on the Argentine street vendors called manteros continued into the usually bustling intersection of Rivadavia and Acoyte. The neighborhood woke up in shock to eerily silent streets after the federal and city police flooded the area in the early hours to prevent the setup of street stalls and blankets which the vendors use to hawk their wares.

Manteros are part of the familiar landscape of Buenos Aires, setting up blankets and makeshift stalls along the busy avenues of parks of the city.  They sell anything from food products to jewelry to kitchenware. Most operate without legal supervision and are not compliant with zoning and commerce regulations.

A massive undertaking, over 500 policeman along with the prosecutor’s office and the fire department met at the street corner and spread out over the surrounding blocks, raiding two homes and a truck along the way. They seized over 100 crates of goods and 40 crates of illegal food produce at the time.

This latest crackdown is one in a series of the past several raids aiming to rid the city of illegal trade, beginning last Thursday when 26 raids were conducted along Avenida Avellanada. The ongoing operation devolved into violence and pepper spray yesterday when two police officers were wounded while a vendor resisted arrest during the shutdown at Retiro station.

Photo via La Nacion.
Photo via La Nacion.

Deputy Prosecutor General Luis Cevasco has justified the extensive campaign by stating that the government is protecting the impoverished vendors against the larger corrupt organizations behind them. According to a study by the Federation of Commerce, the manteros and illegal businesses account for over 12,000 jobs and over $AR 3.6 million per month in cash.  The manteros only see a part of this revenue, as they are part of a greater network which sells the merchandise to allegedly exploited vendors. It is these “shadowy” networks that the government’s aims to take down with the latest spate of raids. Cevasco commented to Clarin, “We aim to continue making progress against the manteros’ organization. The person who is in the street is… in many cases they are victims of exploitation, where they don’t have any protection. But behind them are organizations that handle a lot of money and profit from the exploitation of poverty, we seek to attack those organizations within a general plan of recovery of these public spaces.”

Specifics for a plan of recovery for the exploited were not given in his statement. Damian Favalli, who has sold his goods for over 20 years at Retiro told La Nación, “We do not have a problem with paying a fee to the municipality or with paying taxes. We want to do things right. We are not a mafia and did not want to harm anyone. It is our livelihood.”