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Security and Survival in the Informal City

Daniel M. Goldstein

Owners of the Sidewalk

global insecurities

Duke University Press

Durham and London


A series edited by Catherine Besteman and DanielM. Goldstein

of the
in the
DanielM. Goldstein

2016 Duke University Press

All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America on acid- free paper
Designed by Natalic F. Smith
Typeset in Quadraat by Westchester Publishing Services
Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data
Goldstein, DanielM., [date] author.
Own ers of the sidewalk : security and survival in the informal
city / DanielM. Goldstein.
pages cm (Global insecurities)
Includes bibliographical references and index.

isbn 978-0-8223-6028-5 (hardcover : alk. paper)

isbn 978-0-8223-6045-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)
isbn 978-0-8223-7471-8 (e- book)
1.Street vendors Political activity Bolivia Cochabamba.
2. Markets Government policy Bolivia Cochabamba.
3. Informal sector (Economics) Political aspects
Bolivia Cochabamba. 4. Cochabamba (Bolivia) Histor y.
I. Title. II. Series: Global insecurities.
hf5459. b5 g65 2016
381'.18098423 dc23
Cover art:
Photograph by the author.
Frontis: f.1 Part of the Cancha, looking east. Photograph
by the author.

For my boys, Ben and Eli

Prologue, ix
Acknowledgments, xiii
1. The Fire, 1
2. Writing, Reality, Truth, 10
3. Don Rafo, 15
4. The Informal Economy, 18
5. Nacho, 25
6. The Bolivian Experiment, 33
7. Meet the Press, 42
8. The Colonial City:
Cochabamba, 15741900, 46
9. Conflicts of Interest, 54
10. Decolonizing Ethnographic
Research, 58

19. Political Geography, 122

20. Fieldwork in a Flash, 131
21. Womens Work, 139
22. Sovereignty and Security, 148
23. Resisting Privatization, 154
24. Don Silvio, 161
25. Character, 167
26. Exploitability, 175
27. Market Men, 182
28. Webs of Illegality, 190
29. Men in Black, 194
30. At Home in the Market, 200
31. Owners of the Sidewalk, 207

11. A Visit to the Cancha, 64

32. The Seminar, 214

12. The Informal State, 74

33. March of the Ambulantes, 222

13. The Modern City:

Cochabamba, 19001953, 80

34. Complications, 230

14. Market Space, Market Time, 87

15. Carnaval in the Cancha, 95
16. Security and Chaos, 102
17. The Informal City:
Cochabamba, 19532014, 108
18. Convenios, 117

35. The Archive and the System, 235

36. Goodbyes, 240
37. Insecurity and Informality, 246
Epilogue, 252
Notes, 257
References, 293
Index, 313

Don Silvio and I sit across from each other at a small wooden table in my
office above the call center. The table, scarred with rings of Nescaf, has
one short leg and tilts when either of us leans in. Nacho sits in a chair to my
left; Don Silvios associate, a dark unsmiling man whose name I didnt catch,
sits to his right. Traffic noise and the cries of vendors slip through the open
window overlooking Avenida Honduras. Diesel exhaust mixes with the smell
of toasting wheat and wafts up from the sidewalk below.
The man across the table, Silvio Mamani, is the president of the trade federation representing the street vendors of Cochabamba. He wears a beaten
brown fedora bearing the stains of many years selling juice on the streets of
the city. Beneath it his hair is receding and wiry, not straight, full, and shiny
black like that of most Bolivians. It is a contrast to his face, which is a caricature of the classically Andean: rich brown skin, sharply angled brow, hooked
nose, protruding chin. Don Silvio speaks through clenched teeth, his lower
jaw deviating from the line of his face, as though it had once been broken
and never properly reset. He wears a blue denim shirt, black pleated pants,
and battered black half-boots with a zipper down the side. Don Silvio walks
with a limp, dragging his bad leg behind him as he pushes his little juice cart
through the market. He looks like a man with deep damage, like a case of
fruit tossed from the back of a delivery truck. But there must be iron in Don
Silvio as well for him to have attained the position he now holds.

I have invited Don Silvio here to my little office to talk about the possibility of doing ethnographic research with his organization, the federacin of
ambulant street vendors, or ambulantes. My work as a cultural anthropologist is based on establishing close, trusting relationships with the people
whose lives I study, to understand their perspectives and experiences. I
hope to discuss my research plan with Don Silvio, to get his blessing on the
project, and to ask for his help in meeting his constituents.
The ambulantes who sell in Cochabambas enormous outdoor market,
the Cancha, are notoriously reluctant to talk to outsiders (figuref.1). This
is not surprising. Ambulantes like Don Silvio can count themselves among
the poorest people in Bolivia, Latin Americas poorest country. The ambulantes of Cochabambas sidewalks earn even less than the average Bolivian,
who brings home a meager $500 a year. As street vendors, the ambulantes work in daily violation of municipal law, which prohibits selling on the
street. So they are constantly harassedchased from sidewalk to street corner by the police, insulted and abused by motorists and pedestrians, preyed
on by shoplifters and muggers, and threatened with violence by other vendors who have established, legal venues. Yet with no better way to make a
living in Bolivias perpetually weak economy, they continue to work on the
streets. If the ambulantes are mistrustful and closed, they have good reason
to be.
I hope to study how market vendors survive amid the many perils they
face on the citys streets, through work in what is often called the informal economythe underground system of buying and selling that parallels the official economy. I am especially interested in the relationship
between informality and illegality and with the ways in which informality
and insecurity correlate in the marginal spaces of the Latin American city.
In a post-9/11 world obsessed with security and with controlling threats to
it, how do the urban poor, facing unrelenting insecurity, create and maintain personal safety and economic stability through informality? What is
the relationship of the state to the informal economy and to the people
whose livelihoods depend on it? What role does informality play in the operations of the state itself ? These questions frame my research plan.
I explain to Don Silvio that I want to write a book about the lives of the
ambulantes, and he eyes me, calculating, across the rickety wooden table.
Don Silvio is no fool: he is a market vendor, a shrewd capitalist who understands the value of commodities, including information. He is also,


without contradiction, a committed socialist who knows that struggles

for social justice are best accomplished through solidarity, a concern for the
common good, and the strategic deployment of collective resources. Don
Silvio knows that he can grant me access to the ambulantes, and he has
something to ask of me in return.
Don Silvio leans in closer, causing the table to tilt in his direction, and
tells me his dream: to build a market for the ambulantes. His stony countenance softens as he talks, his flat black eyes kindled by an inner light.
The market will be the ambulantes to administer, he says, and stalls within
it will be distributed equitably to members of the ambulantes federation.
We will run the market ourselves, Don Silvio says. It will be our market.1
The market will have two storiesIt has to have two stories, carajo!with
cement floors and a good roof to block the punishing sun and the seasonal
downpours. The entrances and exits will be gated, to control access and to
ensure that any delinquent who wanders in will have a hard time getting
out again with stolen property. In that market, Don Silvio believes, the
ambulantes will be transformed from roving street vendors, poor, dirty,
and despised, into citizens with rights, able to earn a decent, reliable living.
It will be like alchemy.
The other man, Don Silvios brooding associate, offers some context. He
says that Don Silvio and his colleagues in the federations leadership have
only just begun talking about a market. For years they and their constituents
have been selling on the streets of Cochabamba, and a market of their own
has never seemed an idea worth entertaining. Too remote, too impossible.
But now they are getting organized. For the first time, the ambulantes have
formed their own federation, with their own elected leaders. For the first time
they are out from under the control of the comerciantes de puesto fijo, the vendors with fixed market stalls who are their direct competitors in the Cancha
but who historically have controlled the federations to which they, the ambulantes, have always belonged. With their own federation, and with Don
Silvio as their president, the ambulantes can set their own agenda. People
are beginning to think big. A market of our own, the brooding man says,
smiling now. Just imagine!
We are silent, Nacho and I and our visitors, all of us contemplating the
enormity of this fantasy. I, for one, am skeptical. The likelihood of the ambulantes getting their own market is infinitesimal. The costs would be too
high, the real estate too scarce, the political pressures against it too great



for such a thing ever to come to pass. But in the faces of Don Silvio and his
compaero I can see the light of true believers. They clutch at this idea with
the ferocity of men clinging to a life raft, and they are not going to let go of
it easily.
Bueno, Don Silvio says to me, returning to the business at hand. How
can you help?



The research on which this book is based began in 2005 and continued
through 2012, the bulk of it conducted between June 2006 and August 2007,
although I continued to make six- to eight-week return visits during each of
the subsequent summers. For their assistance with this project, I thank Rose
Marie Ach, Eric Hinojosa, and Ruth Ordoez, as well as the pseudonymous
Nacho Antezana. I am, of course, eternally grateful to the men and women
of the Cancha who allowed me to work with them and to write about their
lives. In particular, I am thankful for the collaboration of the men I call Don
Rafo and Don Silvio, whose help and assistance, while not disinterested,
was fundamental to the success of my project.
The material contained herein is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0540702. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are
mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Portions of chapters16, 22, and29 previously appeared in the article Color- Coded Sovereignty and the Men in Black: Private Security in
a Bolivian Marketplace, Conflict and Society (2015). Some of the data from
Chapter 32 was also used in a chapter titled, Aspiration: Dreaming of a
Public Policing in Bolivia, in Ethnography of Policing, ed. Didier Fassin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming).

I appreciate the collaboration and support of my colleagues at Rutgers

University and the Department of Anthropology. Thanks to friends, colleagues, and students who have read and commented on parts of this book,
especially Catherine Besteman, Asher Ghertner, Assaf Harel, David McDermott Hughes, and Ieva Jusionyte. In Bolivia, I extend my gratitude to Alberto Rivera, Humberto Vargas, Kathryn Ledebur, Lee Cridland, and Carlos
and Anna Aliaga. I also thank the people who made it possible for me to present portions of this work in progress, provided comments, and otherwise
supported me and my work on this project: Asad Ahmed, Carolina Alonso,
Philippe Bourbeau, Pamela Calla, Diane Davis, Tessa Diphoorn, Susana
Duro, Didier Fassin, Catarina Frois, Erella Grassiani, Carol Greenhouse,
Michael Herzfeld, Rivke Jaffe, Gareth Jones, Don Kalb, Kees Koonings,
Mark Maguire, Sally Engle Merry, Martijn Oosterbaan, Wil Pansters, Dennis Rodgers, Ton Salman, and Nils Zurawski. Gisela Fosado and the staff at
Duke University Press have been great to work with on all of my books. Bill
Nelson drew the maps, and Margie Towery provided the index. I thank my
cousin, Lisa Berg, who provided many of the photos in the book. I appreciate the comments and feedback of the three anonymous reviewers, which
were very helpful in shaping the final version of this text. Love to my family
for all their support.


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