Monday, October 3, 2011

The Zorreros Fight for their Way of Life

Out of place and out of time?
A zorrero trots up Carrera 13. 

'Members of the Constitutional Court,
we demand the right to work. '
Families who make their living with horsecarts protested today against plans to prohibit their way of life.

Bogotá's thousands of horsecart drivers, known as zorreros, mostly make their living by scavenging or vending things from the carts. You can't miss them as they drive up and down streets crying out for people to bring out their junk, which the zorreros will sift thru for anything they can sell, including scrap metal.

The zorreros have been broadly demonized by many Bogotanos. In recent weeks, I've seen two demonstrations, including one yesterday, at least partly directed against them, and a city law would prohibit them as of February 2012: supposedly, they are thieves, they are dirty, they abuse their horses and they mess up traffic.

This cart appears to be terribly overloaded. 

There's undoubtedly some truth to some of these accusations, altho I have seen no evidence that the horsecart people commit any more crimes than any other group of poor people. And, if they lose their horses and livelihoods, desperation would undoubtedly turn many working zorreros into criminals. The accusation that they cause traffic jams is even more preposterous, as a glance at any Bogotá traffic jam will show: Bogotá's traffic jams are caused by too many cars - not too many horsecarts. 

Horses and carts wait along Calle 13.
Yes, some of these urban horses are overworked, underfed and abused by their owners. But other zorreros seem to dearly love their horses and care for them like family members. In the past, animal protection organizations tried to enforce standards for protecting the animals, including regular veterinary check-ups. I think the results were mixed. But maybe the right mixture of funding and sanctions could actually protect these horses. For society, I'm sure, that would be lots cheaper in the end than turning working people into criminals, alcoholics and beggars, which is where the zorreros would most likely end up. After all, these people lack the education or skills to do anything else.
The zorreros, or horsecart drivers, are mostly poor,
unosphisticated people with little education. 

The most humane solution for the horsecart families would be to educate their children, opening up other options for them. Then, the horsecarts might disappear into the past, not because internal combustion vehicles are better than animal-drawn ones, but because Bogotá will have produced more good jobs and educated people to fill them. (By then, lets hope, cars will be gone from Bogotá's streets as well.)

A horse gallops up Calle 13. 
I'm convinced that the zorreros' greatest sin is being unsophisticated and seemingly anachronistic in a city that wants to appear slick and modern. All of this, as well as social isolation, compounds the zorreros' vulnerability.
 Today, they waved signs (most likely written by more literate supporters) and blew into horns. Google 'zorreros Bogota' and you'll find Facebook groups and You Tube videos condemning them - but almost nothing in their defense. In contrast, Google those expensive diesel vehicles which are flooding the city and you'll find lots of propaganda glorifying them - even tho they are responsible for poisoning our air and clogging our avenues.

But, money and sophistication talk these days - and the zorreros lack both of them.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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