Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camilo's Rolling Pharmacy

You've seen lots like him on central Bogotá's sidewalks, pushing their carts and playing 'catch me if you can' with the police.

Camilo sells herbs, seashells, leaves and even stones, most of them supposed to cure bodily ills. Suffering intestinal troubles? He'll sell you seeds called inis estrellado; Alergies? He's got piedra de alumbre. He's even got a stone to treat problems with you amygdalas, a tiny brain structure. And if all you want is a tea or a bath, try flor de jamaica, or hibiscus flower.

Camilo evaluates Bogotá's mayors thru their tolerance - or lack of - of street vendors like himself. Now-suspended Mayor Samuel Moreno Rojas didn't bother enforcing public space (or other laws), earning him plaudits from the

vendors. His temporary replacement has been stricter, however, and while Camilo and I talked he ducked down a side street until some police walked past. The police sometimes confisticate Camilo's cart, together with his wares, which are worth 300,000 pesos, and don't always return them. Mayors Peñalosa and Mockus left bad memories for their campaigns against invaders of public space.

It sure seems to me that people like Camilo, who aren't noisy or dirty and don't competer with formal retailers, could be allowed to sell in areas where they don't block pedestrians. The city could create some sort of inexpensive licenses for street vendors who follow the rules. They, in turn, could then help restrict other, illegal vendors.

After all, Camilo has a wife and four children to support.

Police gone, Camilo rolls back to Seventh Ave.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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