Monday, June 04, 2007

Mercado Santa Anita: After the Fall

In the end the outcome was perhaps the best possible alternative to potential tragedy -- farcical anticlimax. Three police bulldozers broke down the back entrance of the Mercado Santa Anita, and in flooded the more than 1,000 police officers that had gathered outside in a show of overwhelming force.

First in were the the stormtrooper-like 'robocops', with their 10 kilos of electric shock-delivering body armour, who were later fawned over at length by the female TV reporters. Amidst a few salvos of teargas, and some half-hearted attempts by the occupiers to set fire to their stalls, it took just 20 minutes to clear the compound.

The tubthumping leader Fernandino Nieto, who had promised 'rivers of blood', shaved off his moustache, slicked back his hair, and tried to fade off admidst the exodus. But he was recognised by police and detained.

Official sources were eager to talk up the violent defenses that the occupiers had apparently been preparing. La Republica's reporter Alfredo Pomared put it in context with a nice piece of subtle scepticism:

As evening fell, Minister Alva Castro showed the supposed weapons that the occupiers had intended to use in their defense: grenades, shotguns, revolvers, and molotov cocktails, among others. What's certain is that La Republica was the only print media in the compound at dawn, and after a long walk, was witness to the discovery by the police of a bucket of water mixed with chili pepper and vinegar, two swords, and an air rifle for hunting small animals.

In an effort which doubled as a public relations exercise, a wave of female police officers were sent to 'rescue' the children who had been stuck in the market. Some were taken to hospital, although it was unclear how their need was assessed. It was originally intended to detain and charge the parents, but this plan was thankfully later scrapped after the judge ruled that the children hadn't, after all, been used as 'human shields'.

As the bedraggled occupants streamed away from the area clutching the few things they managed to salvage (blankets or a radio here; a live chicken there) the TV reporters from 90 Segundos were keen to ensure they didn't escape without having it rubbed in. "What did you manage to take with you?" and "are there any children?", they asked. Some people, visibly upset, shouted "don't film!" and pushed at the camera, actions which were noted as confirming their uncouthness.

With the market cleared, hard-working agricultural wholesalers in the chaotic, overcrowded La Parada area of central Lima, where around 80 percent of the city's produce is sold, were looking forward to moving to new improved premises in Santa Anita.

For those who had been occupying the premises , it was a different story. A rag-tag group clutching their few remaining possessions found their way to a small park in the barrio of Ate Vitarte. There they huddled on what was the coldest night of the year, and the next morning struggled to scrape together breakfast for the children.

Some of the Santa Anita refugees had only arrived in the market a few months previously and were bewildered by what had happened. Many had wanted to leave the compound previously, but had been prohibited from doing so by their 'leaders'. One man with a face full of woe explained how he had sold his dwelling in the countryside and paid land pirate Herminio Porras 5,000 soles ($1,600 USD) for his spot in the market.

With many residents of the area around the park quickly growing impatient with the invasion of their neighbourhood, the refugees from Santa Anita were left facing, like so many others in Peru, an uncertain and perilous future.

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