The market IS POLITICAL

Mercado Municipal, Izalco

Over the last few months, I have spent a significant amount of time in local markets, especially the market in Izalco. It is so intriguing to see how politics influences what happens inside (and outsite) markets and to see the kinds of politics that are happening.

Izalco thrives in the morning as vendors and consumers make their way to the market hoping to strike a good deal and/or make a good sale. Small-scale vendors from the surrounding cantones (rural areas) rush to the trucks-full of fruits and vegetables for their stand. Other vendors hop on a truck heading to Izalco and there they sell the produce that they cultivated themselves.

On the one hand, the markets in Izalco reveal the way in which commerce has evolved in the town. Originally, there was no such thing as large-scale vendors, the way in which it is evidenced today. Certainly there were no large trucks carrying mass produced produce. Instead, the market was full of subsistence farmers selling their products. Today, however, it is quite common for small-scale vedors to have a wide range of imported products straight from California. You can find anything from apples, to papayas, to bananas, with a fresh USA stamp on it.

The market has in itsef become a political institution, given that it is a way through which the population is taxed and through which control is exherted. Originally, people would set up a stand in the market and the only politics they may have faced was related to competition for space. Today, however, there is greater control over markets in the sense that cities highly control the stands (both inside and outside the building). Spaces are rented out and profit is generated by the municipalities. Taxation is not necessarily a bad thing, but when taxation is imposed to small scale vendors who are happy making $5-$10 per day, I believe there is a problem.

On the issue of control, regulation of stands allows a greater degree of (in)security. It may give the impression to people that the market is now more secure because there is greater knowledge of who is spending time at the market.  This is seen not only as a priority, but as a necessity in the Salvadoran context. However, it is also fostering insecurity because criminal networks still exist. The difference being that they have been pushed to the margins and function at an invisible level, making it harder to detect.

This emphasizes the idea that although controls mechanisms may give the impression to the general public that the market is safe and secure, they have actually reinforced the vulnerability of the state. Taxing people who are caught in a cylce of poverty is not the key to economic growth in this case. In fact, it has been determined that poverty is one of the leading causes of crime in El Salvador. Furthermore, projecting the image of a heavy handed states through police, military, and other coercive means may not necessarily yield the desired result in terms of decreasing crime rates. Rather, it pushes people out of sight and creates more insecurity.

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