Originally: Haitian officials drive street vendors away in new bid to clean capital


Police swept through Haiti?s capital Monday, driving thousands of street merchants from their stands in a new initiative to clean up the city.

City officials estimate that 500,000 merchants work unregulated in Port-au-Prince, a city of 2.5 million people, leaving mounds of garbage throughout the capital.

“It?s almost impossible to keep the streets clean with them here,” said Gerald Raymond, an adviser to deputy mayor Yannick Mezile, pointing to a curb lined with plastic bottles and other debris.

The clean up plan has created 300 new jobs for the city, but it threatens the livelihoods of the thousands of merchants who survive on selling everything from clothing to chickens.

“I don?t know where I?ll go,” said Serge Valdre, a 55-year-old hardware merchant who has been selling his wares for more than three decades. “I have nine kids I have to feed,” he added, trembling with rage as he packed under the gaze of a mayoral aide and a policeman.

Mezile, who is coordinating the city?s clean up plan, said her office has found an alternative location for the vendors on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. She declined to reveal the location, saying it was not yet ready for use.

Police made announcements through loudspeakers warning street vendors to pack up their merchandise and leave. Officers and scores of city workers dismantled roadside stands, throwing crates and tables into pickup trucks.

“We?re going to do this all day every day,” Raymond said. “This is long term.”

Several vendors packed up to avoid arrest or having their goods thrown into a municipal truck, but vowed to keep selling. Many said they wanted to be able to send their children to school in September and could not afford any loss of income now.

Free public schools are scarce in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and many parents struggle to pay monthly tuition and other expenses.

Most Haitian adults in the city work in the informal economy, and the number of street vendors in the capital has exploded in the past decade as peasants flowed into the city looking for employment.

The garbage in the downtown market districts ties up traffic and trucks occasionally get stuck in the grime. It deters pedestrian traffic, and emergency officials say it slows down response times.

Trash pickup ceased altogether following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29 and worsened with recent rains that swept sludge down from the hills. A U.S.-led peacekeeping mission that was here in the months that followed helped with clean up drives.

Philippe Armand, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Haiti, has said the vendors have badly damaged legitimate businesses.

“The informal economy has destroyed the formal economy,” Armand said. “I think the government is really trying to get the country back on track, but the problems are mammoth.”