ECONOMIC CRISIS AND THE ASSAULT
ON MARKETERS IN PERU
Florence E. Babb
Department of Sociology and
Working Paper #06
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ECONOMIC CRISIS AND THE ASSAULT
ON MARKETERS IN PERU
Florence E. Babb
Department of Sociology and
Working Paper #06
Abstract: The economic crisis confronting Peru for the last six years has
been marked by the government's increased difficulty in keeping food
prices at a tolerable level. In an apparent effort to turn attention away
from its own responsibility in the crisis, the government launched a cam-
paign against petty marketers and street vendors, an occupational group
composed in large part of poor women. Based on interview data collected
in 1977 in the city of Huaraz, along with national news reports from Lima,
dating from 1977 to the present, this paper analyzes the emerging conflict
between the national elite and impoverished marketers in Peru.
About the Author: Florence E. Babb received the Ph.D. in anthropology in
1981 from the State University of New York at Buffalo, after carrying out
dissertation research on market women in the underdeveloped Peruvian
economy. She has taught anthropology for three years at Colgate Univer-
sity, and beginning in the fall of 1982, will be an assistant professor
of anthropology and women's studies at the University of Iowa.
Copyright 1982, MSU Board of Trustees
ECONOMIC CRISIS AND THE ASSAULT ON MARKETERS IN PERU1
In recent years, the Peruvian government has faced two related and
pressing problems: rising food prices and a proliferation of urban
marketers and street vendors. The way in which these problems have been
linked together in an effort to stem Peru's economic crisis is revealing
of national and international-level interests. This paper will suggest
that while it has served dominant class interests to hold small marketers
--among whom a majority are poor women--responsible for soaring food
costs, closer examination shows that both high prices and the growth of
petty commerce are responses to more fundamental economic problems of
dependent capitalism in Peru. My discussion of the Peruvian case may be
understood in the more general context of the situation confronting many
Third World countries in which economic underdevelopment is accompanied
by an expanding tertiary sector.
I begin with some brief background to the current economic crisis in
Peru, with attention to food price policy. Then, I discuss the relation-
ship of small marketers to food prices, counterposing the government
policy position with my own view. This discussion is followed by the main
body of the paper which focuses on developments I observed in 1977 in the
provincial city of Huaraz, where the effects of tightening control of
commerce at the local level illustrate the human consequences of national
policy directives from Lima. The last portion of the paper reviews
reports indicating that since 1977 national efforts to curtail marketing
activity have become an important aspect of repressive government action.
The Political-Economic Setting
The military coup which brought General Juan Velasco Alvarado to power
in 1968 was met with early optimism as the expropriation of foreign
interests and a program of agrarian reform were quickly introduced..
Beginning in the 1970s, the military's concern to secure an adequate and
cheap food supply for urban Peru made this a key element in domestic
policy.2 In 1970, an agency, the Empresa Publica de Servicios Agro-
pecuarios (EPSA), was created to control the marketing of basic foodstuffs
(Fitzgerald 1976:50), and in 1972 the production and marketing of all
agricultural products came under state control (Strasma 1976: 310). By
the end of 1974, a Ministry of Food was established to regulate price
structures on a regional basis, doing away with marketers' control of
basic food prices.
The year 1975, however, marked a downturn in Peru's economy and the
transition to power of the more conservative General Francisco Morales
Berm6dez, who was willing to take increasingly harsh measures to try to
manage the crisis. With the encouragement of international lending
agencies, his government's policy was to reduce public spending, devalue
the Peruvian sol, and hold down workers' wages while raising the official
prices of primary food items. The result was growing impoverishment for
Peru's working class, and even greater difficulty for the country's unem-
ployed and marginally employed, who make up over half the labor force.
The 1980 civilian elections which brought back the president unseated in
1968, Fernando Belaunde Terry, brought little relief for this majority of
the population. On the contrary, under the terms of the new economic
policy unveiled in January 1981, prices rose and other devastating
measures (Peru Update, February 1981) sparked popular opposition, from a
nationwide general strike to numerous marches and protests.
In response to the economic crisis, foreign capital was once again
granted favorable terms in Peru (Bollinger 1980:12-13; Latin American
Working Group 1980:3). Actually, despite the fanfare over Velasco's
expropriations of international concerns, Fitzgerald (1979:131) estimates
that the profitability of foreign capital before and after 1968 was sub-
stantially higher than that of domestic Capital. Hunt (1975:343-346)
agrees that Peru's relationship with Western capitalism remained strong
during the period of military rule, with foreign capital continuing to
play a major role. While it is difficult to know precisely the degree of
international control of the Peruvian economy, it is certain that since
1975 the government has been increasingly eager to renegotiate the terms
of forei n investment in the country, and by 1980 foreign capital was
thriving In a later section of this paper, we will see the effect
foreign investment has had on food marketing.
Marketers and Food Prices: Two Views
Much has been written in the last few years concerning the com-
mercialization of agricultural products in Peru, pleasing for the
injured rights of the consumer in some cases and for the legiti-
mate interests of the producer in others. But the almost invari-
able factor in the various inquiries has been the simple chain
of the intermediary, presumed responsible for the majority of
problems inherent in this process that concerns everybody; the
provisioning of food. (Esculies Larrabure et al. 1977:9, my
Under pressure from middle class and working class consumers (and
international interests as well), the Peruvian government has directed
considerable attention to controlling food prices since the early 1970s.
Much less attention has gone to the problems of unemployment and under-
employment which Peru's least powerful constituencies face. Lack of
employment opportunities is most dramatic in Lima, but in provincial
cities like Huaraz, with little industry, the level of unemployment is
also high. Further, unemployment is a special problem for women, who have
even fewer alternatives than men. The problem would be still more severe
were it not for the fact that a growing segment of the population is
counted among the self-employed--a large number in petty commerce. In a
limited, but important, way, small-scale marketers reduce the national
employment problem by sustaining themselves during a time of economic
hardship. Just the same, the government has pointed the finger at
commercial intermediaries as a group, holding them responsible--as the
preceding quotation suggests--for the troubles Peru has in provisioning
its people with food at affordable prices.
Let us take a look, then, at the connection between marketers and
Peru's food price problem. From the vantage point of urban consumers and
their representatives in government, there is a direct correspondence
between the number of marketers engaged in the distribution process and
the ultimate cost of food to buyers. Small retailers, who make up the
last link in the "chain of intermediaries," often are singled out for
attack since they are both the most numerous and the most visible to con-
sumers. These small marketers are viewed as providing an inessential
service, bringing goods to urban neighborhoods in very small quantities.
Their impoverished and sometimes unhygienic working conditions are fre-
quently viewed with alarm, at the same time that these marketers are con-
sidered social parasites. These are the proliferating urban poor, many
of whom are recent migrants to the cities who have taken up residence in
squatter settlements, or pueblos jovenes, and who now seek work wherever
they can find it. Though they clearly earn little in their retailing
endeavors, for the urban consumer their very presence represents an
increment in the price paid for primary foods.
This popularly held view of marketers and street vendors (or ambu-
lantes) in Peru, is shared by some writers who have considered the prob-
lem. Esculies Larrabure et al. (1977), notwithstanding a sensitivity to
the socioeconomic forces that propel marketers to their work and a recog-
nition of the essential nature of the work they do, concludes that the
reform of the marketing system in Peru must begin with the elimination of
much of the wholesale and retail network, tighter control of the rest, and
an improved infrastructure.
Of course, there is much that can be said for the irrationality of the
present system of marketing in Peru--where 99 percent of retail activity
is in the hands of small, independent4 sellers (ibid.:181)-- and we may
imagine a situation in which economic planning might result in far
smoother functioning of distribution. Certainly, many marketers would be
delighted to leave their market stalls and places in the streets were
there employment alternatives open to them. But, in my view, to suggest
that the state in its present form could accomplish successful reform of
the system overlooks certain critical factors. First, it ignores the role
of the Peruvian government itself in generating and perpetuating the cur-
rent economic crisis--and it never considers the broader international
context of the crisis and the implications for Peru's food prices.
Second, this view neglects some important features of the work of market-
ers within the present structure of underdevelopment in Peru, e.g., their
capacity to keep down prices, their productive contribution to the process
of bringing goods to consumers, as well as their self-sufficiency which
acts to offset the level of unemployment.
It has been noted that Peru's economic troubles deepened in 1975, and
the nation turned to international lending agencies for assistance. As
Peru became more entrenched in debt over the next few years, the Interna-
tional Monetary Fund imposed severe conditions for the granting of further
loans. Peru's compliance with these conditions was to a large extent
responsible for the high cost of living relative to the low payscale of
working people in the country. Added to this, the government's concern
to favor development in the capital-intensive "modern" sector has meant
the neglect of the "traditional" sector in which petty marketers partici-
pate. To the degree that the state has entered into the affairs of the
traditional sector, it has generally done so in the interests of urban
consumers and the national and international elite. In controlling the
prices of staple foods, the Ministry of' Food has set bounds on the
"profits" marketers make. In the case of small retailers, earnings rarely
amount to enough to support a family, much less reinvest in business. In
this fashion, by working for so little reward, marketers help to keep
prices at a tolerable level.
To appreciate the contribution that marketers make, it is important
to assess the work they do within the framework of the total production
process. The work of bringing goods to the consumer is necessary to the
realization of the product's value, as the final step in the production
process as a whole, just as it is an indispensable social service. More-
over, the work of marketers generally goes beyond the physical transport
of materials from one place to another to include, at the least, the
safeguarding, cleaning, sorting, preserving, measuring, weighing, and
packaging of goods. Many do even more, adding value to the goods they
sell by transforming raw food to cooked food, unprocessed grains to flour,
fresh pork to smoked ham, whole vegetables to chopped vegetables in
packets for soup, and so on. All these activities should be regarded as
productive work for which the consumer pays the marketer, and this must
be figured into any plans for curtailing retail trade.
The importance of marketers' self-sufficiency during a period of high
unemployment has been noted. Their resourcefulness in making a living has
the double advantage to the government of quelling dissent--to a degree--
and keeping on hand a ready supply of workers who would enter the wage
labor force when called on. This then is my view of the role of marketers
in Peru and their relationship to present economic problems. In arguing
that our analysis must encompass the wider national and international
situation that shapes the activity of marketers, the food supply, and food
prices, I have challenged the position taken by the government and en-
couraged in the media that portrays marketers as cunning social parasites.
Other researchers (e.g., Lele 1971:1; Bucklin 1972:5), writing about
marketing in developed and underdeveloped economies, have noted the
unwarranted antipathy of the public toward market intermediaries who are
often regarded as antisocial villains. In India, for example, this anti-
pathy is traced to consumer and governmental ignorance of the fundamental
importance of distribution to the total production process in society, and
to the mistaken assumption that traditional markets cannot be successful
channels for trade (Lele 1975:100-101).
The research of Harrison et al. (1974) on market systems in three
Latin American countries takes a similar position, stressing the need to
understand marketers as providers of socially useful services and produc-
tive members of society. The authors (ibid.:23-24) offer the case of
Bolivia, where policy-makers attempted without success to eliminate
"unproductive" intermediaries. Such interventions, they note, are some-
times the efforts of political leaders to create a show of concern for
consumers at the expense of marketers (ibid.:90). The findings of their
broad study suggest that, contrary to popular opinion, when the labor of
marketers is assessed at the minimum wage level, there is little or no
return on their capital (ibid.:42). These findings compare with my
observations in Peru, where daily earnings of as little as US$.40-.50 (or
about half the wage for day laborers) were common.
The question to be addressed then is: If petty marketers provide
essential services in Peru, and if petty commerce offers employment--
however marginal--to members of society who might otherwise be unemployed,
why then has the Peruvian government taken actions that appear to jeopar-
dize the livelihood of marketers? To answer this question, I turn to a
consideration of some observations I made while carrying out fieldwork in
The Assault on Marketers: The Case of Huaraz
Field research was undertaken in 1977 through a combination of parti-
cipant observation and open-ended interviewing in and around the city of
Huaraz. Considerable time was spent in one of the four daily markets in
the city, Mercado Central, to acquire an in-depth understanding of the
nature of market work. Many informal interviews were carried out in the
other three Huaraz markets, especially in the sprawling, open air market-
place known as La Parada. In later phases of the fieldwork, I designed a
questionnaire for market women and their husbands, and made a census of
shops along three city blocks. In addition to interviews with some 300
marketers, conversations with market officials, consumers, and producers
were included in my field data.
In Peru, 1977 was declared the "Year of Austerity" in response to the
economic and political demands of the International Monetary Fund, in
exchange for emergency loans. That year saw rapidly rising food and fuel
costs--conditions that have grown steadily worse--and increasing control
over the labor force. Here, I will describe the increasing regulation of
petty traders by the Peruvian government, the response of the marketers
themselves, and the implications these have for our understanding of the
economic crisis in the country. I will refer to national level policy
affecting marketers generally, but I will draw heavily on research I con-
ducted in the Andean city of Huaraz to show how marketers are meeting the
threat to their means of livelihood.
The city of Huaraz is located some 200 miles north of Lima in the
Peruvian Andes. It is the commercial and administrative capital of the
department of Ancash, and the population of about 75,000 is largely
composed of bilingual Quechua-Spanish speakers. Of the city's approxi-
mately 1,200 marketers counted in four markets, almost 80 percent were
women. Women were principally concentrated in the retail sale of fruits
and vegetables and cooked foods. Men tended to be located in the sale of
manufactured goods and in larger scale retail or wholesale trade. There
was considerable overlap, however, in the areas of women's and men's
Marketers throughout Peru are regulated, taxed, and supervised through
a number of mechanisms. In Huaraz, all marketers must pay for identifi-
cation cards showing they have passed yearly medical exams, and marketers
holding permanent stalls must pay annual matriculation fees, based on the
size of their stalls and the type of goods they sell. Daily fees are
collected from all sellers, again in amounts varying by the type and
quantity of product sold. Other fees are collected for the use of storage
space, scales, and, even, the latrines. Sellers of meat have veterinary
and slaughtering fees to pay, and the wholesalers have special fees for
transporting goods in and out of the city. During the time I was in
Huaraz, the city council called for significant increases in these fees;
this call was met by angry protest and the market unions' discussion of a
possible strike. The council was forced to compromise in this case,
though market taxation still increased.
As noted before, the wholesale and retail prices of basic foodstuffs
are officially controlled in Peru, and when marketers fail to comply with
bi-weekly changes in prices issued by the Ministry of Food, they may be
heavily fined. Fines are also given for large and small violations by the
inspectors of hygiene and weights and measures. The authorities have the
power to remove sellers from the markets if they cannot pay the fees and
fines issued to them. Small retailers maintained--and I think they are
correct--that they must pay a disproportionate share of such fees and
fines, while larger violators, usually wholesalers, are less often appre-
hended and penalized.
These mechanisms for the control of marketers are already sufficient
to make it difficult for many impoverished sellers to carry on their
trade. Recently, however, government control of marketing has been
increasing. There has, in fact, been a national campaign against the
broad category of commercial "intermediaries," in which the government
portrays itself as the champion of urban consumers. The effects of this
campaign are strongest in Lima, but they are felt in cities like Huaraz
In late June of 1977, while I was in Huaraz, an increasing number of
articles began to appear in the Lima newspapers on the topic of producers'
and wholesalers' markets that were being established to bring goods more
cheaply to consumers. The Lima dailies ILa Prensa, El Comercio, and
Expreso, all of which were government-controlled, invariably contained
reports of actions taken for consumers and, often, against marketers.
For example, on July 1 the Expreso ran the headline "Wholesalers' Strong-
hold Falls." Inside the issue, there were no less than three articles on
one page devoted to the government's decision to open several of Lima's
wholesale markets to the public on a limited basis. The lead article was
entitled "Starting Today: Food at Prices Below Official Rates," and was
accompanied by one bearing a title denouncing intermediaries, "They Buy
Sweet Potatoes for Two Soles...And Sell Them for Twelve!" Finally, the
third article addressed housewives, "Prefect to Housewives: You Too Are
to Blame for Speculation." This last article rebuked shoppers for not
denouncing marketers they knew to be conducting illegal activities
(Expreso, July 1, 1977:3). These articles and many others around that
time implied that marketers, both wholesalers and retailers, had an
undifferentiated responsibility for current high prices and the scarcity
of certain items.
Two days after Expreso celebrated the direct sale of goods from
wholesalers to the public, La Prensa (July 3, 1977) published an article
announcing the effort was a failure. But instead of criticizing the
plan's conception, La Prensa declared the sellers to be responsible due
to their noncooperation.
Back in Huaraz, plans were underway for an Ancash Regional Fair to
take place in the outskirts of the city in late July. The fair was to
feature exhibits by artisans and, as a special attraction, was to bring
producers directly from their fields to sell agricultural goods to the
public--referred to by the government slogan "from the field to the pot."
Despite the fanfare, however, the producers' market was only a small part
of the fair. Indeed, only one actual producer was included among the ten
people selling food at booths. Others had been recruited from the Huaraz
marketplace and were paid to participate in the event. For example, one
man who normally sold meat in a Huaraz market was hired by a nearby agri-
cultural cooperative to represent their organization at the fair. He
explained that the members of the cooperative preferred to leave the job
of selling to the public to marketers. The one producer in attendance, a
man selling wheat and barley, agreed that for producers it was better to
sell quickly to wholesalers and get back to work. The view that it was
better to sell in large quantities to sure buyers rather than slowly to
the public was expressed to me by many producers in the region.
The Regional Fair was not well attended, and those women who came to
shop for food were critical. Some had to pay for transportation to and
from the fair, and they were annoyed to have to pay an entry fee as well.
When they got there, they found few sellers, little selection, and long
lines. Further, primary foodstuffs were rationed, so that if a woman
wanted to purchase more than, for example, three kilos of rice, she needed
to take her children along to receive extra portions. Several women felt
that the saving of a sol or two was not worth the trouble of coming to the
fair, and they spoke appreciatively of the marketplace which better served
Overall, the producers' market at the fair did not have any signifi-
cant impact in the city. Indeed, after it was over an official of the
Ministry of Food apologized for the low participation of agricultural
producers at the fair. Even so, the mayor of Huaraz expressed some
interest in turning the fairgrounds into a permanent market for producers
and artisans. This enterprising mayor also had a personal interest in
building a supermarket in the city, though he lacked funds for such a
project. Clearly, if such plans as these were to materialize in Huaraz,
the situation of small marketers might change considerably.
One marketer responded to the rumors of new markets and expressed a
view shared by many others. He judged the notion of producers' markets
to be a good idea for the public, but a very bad one for wholesalers and
retailers. He explained:
In the first place, for us marketers it would mean marginaliza-
tion. And secondly, what would we do, what work would we dedi-
cate ourselves to? You could become a 'delinquent, a thief. The
government has not thought this through carefully.
This man went on to make the very important point that the idea of "from
field to pot" was being implemented only in the area of food production,
where the majority of people involved were not powerful, and not in the
area of manufactured goods, where the really powerful people were. The
government, he noted, could not control the latter because they constitu-
ted the national bourgeoisie, who ruled the country. He commented, more-
over, that he could not see the advantage to agricultural producers in
selling their own goods, since the goods. must be divided among marketers
in order to get them to the public while they are still fresh. If a pro-
ducers' market were established, he said, he would try to buy out
producers in the market. Furthermore, marketers as a group would be
certain to launch a protest.
Another man, a former wholesaler now selling retail, had not heard
about producers' markets before I mentioned them to him. When I asked how
he would feel about one in Huaraz, he said he thought it would be good
since food would cost less.6 When I asked how it would affect sellers,
he reconsidered and said they would not permit a producers' market to
exist in the city. "The people would rise up," he said, and "the retail-
ers would not accept it." He pointed to the high level of unemployment
that would result if these markets were founded.
While marketers may be concerned about the future threat of new
markets in which their jobs might be eliminated, the few showcase producer
and wholesaler markets in Peru had limited success through 1977. We have
seen that the producers and consumers interviewed regarded the work of
small marketers as providing essential services. The continued reliance
on petty marketers testified to the large amount of work these people do,
and suggested it would not be easy to pass their jobs on to other workers
under present conditions.
Still, there was a more immediate way in which marketers were threat-
ened by government actions. While the Lima papers were unveiling a cam-
paign against the abuses of large wholesalers and the proliferation of
intermediaries, reports also revealed government efforts to apply greater
control to one particular group of retailers, the street vendors, or am-
bulantes. In establishing regulations that would affect this group, the
authorities were clearly responding to middle class pressure to do some-
thing about the impoverished sellers who are swelling the streets, par-
ticularly in Lima. New legislation, based on studies of "the ambulante
problem," was publicized, calling for the zoning (i.e., the containment),
increased surveillance, and tighter control over the fee collection, price
setting, and hygienic standards of these vendors. One article (La Prensa,
August 6, 1977:10), titled "How to Eliminate the Factors that Maintain and
Stimulate Ambulatory Commerce," revealed the government's intentions to
close down some areas where ambulantes sell in Lima, relocate others, and
to direct propaganda to consumers "to orient their attitude toward ambu-
latory commerce..." Such conditions naturally make it very difficult for
many of the poorest vendors to carry on their work.
In Huaraz, similar measures were taken by the city council. In one
action, a committee was formed to oversee the commerce of milk and sugar.
This action was designed to control the activities of the "bad merchants
that exist in Huaraz" (El Departamento. August 11, 1977). In another
decision the Inspector of Hygiene determined that 85 percent of ambulantes
selling bread in the city did so under unsanitary conditions. To combat
this situation, the council agreed that any sellers not in possession of
a health card would be issued heavy fines. Further, fines were to be
given to those without appropriate baskets and those who did not properly
protect bread from dust, and there was to be more stringent control of
price, quality, and weight.
When we consider the difficulty that even the well-established
marketers in Huaraz had in paying their annual fees, it becomes clear how
very unlikely it was that poor ambulantes would be able to afford these
fees. The action of the council to tighten these regulations must be
viewed as a threat to ambulantes' way of making a living. Such action has
the further effect of creating divisions among marketers,7 since some
were singled out for criticism. Indeed, some permanent marketers shared
the view of the council, that ambulantes constituted a health hazard and
ought to be controlled.
The Situation Since 1977
Since 1977, the situation of small marketers and street vendors in
Peru has grown much worse. While increased inflation and a controlled
political climate affect the majority of Peruvians, marketers, and
particularly the ambulantes, have continued to be singled out for attack.
A 1978 article in the leftist journal Marka (July 27, 1978:19-20) on
the declining economic and health conditions of the poor in Peru, noted
that petty commerce was the activity to which most people were turning in
an effort to overcome miserable lives. Consequently, this sector had
expanded in an "extraordinary manner." Children had been pressed into
service, as their families struggled to get by. Street vending had
earlier been little known outside Lima, but, at the time of the article,
the streets of provincial cities were crowded with sellers, "in constant
battle with municipal authorities."
In early 1979, Marka (January 4, 1979:12-14) ran an article which
exposed the influence of multinationals underlying Peru's "economic
packages" of price hikes. Five multinational interests (among them
Purina, Carnation, and Nestle) were shown to control the price increases
of bread, noodles, milk, and oil. It was not the seller of bread on the
corner who benefitted from the rise in prices, the article noted, but
rather the monopolies that controlled 60 percent of the bread industry in
Peru. Sellers of milk suffered similar effects: half of the milk sold
in Lima is "Leche Gloria," a subsidiary of Carnation, while the second
largest beneficiary of increased milk prices was its competitor Perulac,
a subsidiary of Nestle. The article (ibid.:14) concluded:
Imperialism has us caught by the stomach. There is no question.
To its enterprises, the government is preparing to offer bigger
profits by means of the announced price rises. And it will cast
the blame for the people's hunger on the bread seller on the
corner and the market woman in the street.
Marka's analysis of marketers as scapegoats very closely matches my
own, and points to the need to trace the problem to its roots, to the
national and international linkages. While Peru's government seeks a
scapegoat for its troubles, it also finds the thousands of vendors who
crowd the capital city's streets selling everything from apples to men's
socks to be a national embarrassment. Apparently, the public display of
so much poverty threatens the image the government would like to project
to international visitors and to its own middle class. It might also,
incidentally, challenge the notion that this impoverished group is so
largely responsible for the economic crisis. Accordingly, before
Belaunde's inauguration in 1980, the government undertook a campaign to
clear central Lima of ambulantes, so that the city would have a nice
appearance for its dignified guests (Bourque and Warren 1981:193).
Summer 1981, however, .marked the most serious government campaign to
rid Lima of its street vendors (Peru Update, June-July 1981:1-2). In
April, a mayor's committee announced that all downtown vendors were to be
removed in mid-June to two clearings on the outskirts of the city. This
announcement was met by a good deal of anger and resistance by the
vendors, who knew that their marginal earnings would be further diminished
on the tiny, square-meter plots assigned to them on the city's remote
The government nonetheless began its relocation program on June 8,
1981, requiring huge financial expense and the presence of the national
guard and tanks in the streets to ensure its successful removal of sellers
(Caretas, June 8, 1981:23). Removal was only possible, however, with the
use of force, numerous arrests, and a TV and radio campaign that
discouraged shoppers from buying goods in the streets. The secretary
general of the Federacion Departamental de Vendedores Ambulantes de Lima
(FEDEVAL), the street vendors' association, projected dire consequences
as increased poverty could only mean increased crime as people tried to
survive (Marka, June 18, 1981:22). Meanwhile, the New York Times
(September 20, 1981) hailed the removal of vendors a great success, as
crime was reduced in Lima's fashionable downtown area and women "are
beginning to wear simple jewelry again."
Some members of the political left in Lima, including the well-known
Hugo Blanco, now a senator, joined forces with the vendors and FEDEVAL and
marched alongside them on June 11, 1981, in a peaceful protest of
thousands of men, women, and children that ended in violent confrontation
with the national guard (El Comercio, June 12, 1981). Blanco, who was
hospitalized after the march, commented a few days later on the situation
of the vendors in an interview with Marka (June 18, 1981:21). He pointed
to the contradictions that generated the "ambulante problem," and tried
to cover its responsibility by blaming the victims of its policies. Until
the government came up with real employment opportunities for the vendors,
he predicted, we may expect their number to increase.
Similarly, the Peruvian writer Grompone (1981:98) traces the growth
of petty commerce to the contradictory, and uneven, development of capi-
talism in Peru. He describes the process as one in which anterior eco-
nomic forms and social relations are challenged, yet sometimes persist.
Only in this context may we understand the present tensions surrounding
the persistence of small-scale marketing in the country.
Peru's increasingly restrictive policy on the marketing of foodstuffs
and other goods sold by small marketers--though not the actual elimination
of retail marketing--may be viewed as an attempt to generate sympathy for
the government's handling of the economic crisis, or at least to turn
attention away from the source of the crisis. Keeping food prices at a
tolerable level is of critical importance to the Peruvian government, yet
this has been increasingly difficult since austerity measures were intro-
duced. In an attempt to appease middle class and working class consumers
in the face of soaring food prices, the government has turned impoverished
marketers into scapegoats--scapegoats who suffer doubly from rising
prices, as sellers whose business is declining, and as consumers them-
selves. Present government policy has the effect of dividing consumers
and marketers, largely women, obscuring even those problems they share in
common. Marketers themselves are differentially affected by new govern-
ment legislation, with the poorest women, as ambulantes, bearing the brunt
of repressive measures. As a consequence, the unity of marketers and
their potential allies is threatened.
Even so, my research in Huaraz and recent reports from Lima have shown
that marketers often recognize the government's actions as efforts to
divide workers in petty commerce and, in. general, to undermine the
solidarity of the working class and poor in Peru. Marketers in Huaraz,
Lima, and elsewhere in Peru have resisted these efforts, and many have
revealed a readiness to unite in a struggle against the future impover-
ishment of their lives.
1. This paper grew out of my doctoral dissertation (Babb 1981c), which
benefitted from the enduring encouragement and criticisms of my
committee members William W. Stein and Elizabeth Kennedy. The
research on which the paper is based was funded by a Grant-in-Aid
awarded to William W. Stein by the Research Foundation of the State
University of New York. Earlier versions of this paper were presented
at the 1981 meetings of the Northeastern Anthropological Assocation
(Babb 1981b) and the American Anthropological Association (Babb
1981a). I am indebted to Diane Hopkins and Bruce Mannheim, and to
Carol Barton and members of Peru Solidarity, for generously providing
me with materials on Peruvian marketers. Rita S. Gallin, editor of
Michigan State University's Women in International Development Publi-
cation Series, and anonymous reviewers, offered many useful sugges-
tions for the final revision of the paper. I remain responsible for
the interpretations in this paper. All translations from the Spanish
Elsewhere, I discuss in more detail the place of petty commerce within
the terms of Peruvian underdevelopment (Babb 1979), and the concep-
tualization of market women's class position, labor force participa-
tion, and political consciousness (Babb 1980).
2. For a discussion of economic policy during this period, see Thorp and
Bertram (1978) and Fitzgerald (1979).
3. For reviews of recent developments in Peru, see Bollinger (1980),
Petras and Havens (1979), and articles in the Latin American Working
Group Newsletter (1980).
4. Here, the word "independent" is used to distinguish these retailers
from the one percent of workers employed by larger self-service
retail establishments in Peru. See, however, Scott (1979) for a
discussion of the subordination of "self-employed" workers to larger
firms in Lima. I discuss the issue bf disguised wage labor among
marketers in Huaraz in Babb 1980.
5. My work has been informed by the writings of several researchers on
similar situations in other Third World cities where government policy
has tightened control over the pricing and distribution of goods.
Bromley (1978) has examined the case' of street sellers in Cali,
Colombia, where official regulation contains and represses
petty trade, and Gerry (1978) describes the situation of petty
producer-sellers in Dakar, Senegal, where government intervention has
benefitted only a few and the majority have undergone worsening con-
ditions. Jellinek (1977) offers an account of a Jakarta street trader
who must constantly evade government "trader clearing campaigns." And
Oliver-Smith (1974), whose fieldwork was carried out in the Peruvian
town of Yungay, not far from Huaraz, points to the importance of
official regulation of marketers through fee collection and fines, as
a means to generate public revenues.
6. While this man's comment regarding the desirability of low food prices
and the foregoing view of women shoppers who felt the saving of a sol
or two was not worth the inconvenience of the fair may appear contra-
dictory, it is important to remember that both low prices and the
convenience and services of the retail market were recognized as
7. Some divisions existed between permanent marketers and ambulantes
anyway, due to their competition for sales and regional differences
among urban marketplace sellers and rural ambulantes. Even so, there
was a certain degree of solidarity expressed between the two groups,
stemming from their recognition of shared problems, that may be
undermined by the attacks on ambulantes.
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El Comercio. Lima.
El Departamento. Huaraz.
New York Times. New York.
Peru Update. New York.
La Prensa. Lima.