During this last June when I spent a month in the capital of São Paulo, I noticed something was missing. Back in 2007, I also had spent a month there and anywhere I walked downtown I found street vendors (aka camelôs) selling their stuff. This past June, nada. They had all but vanished, though I did spot one loner among the sea of people that walk along the streets near the Sé neighborhood.
It wasn’t so much that a part of my previous visual and auditory experience there had gone missing but rather that I was one of their customers and I needed new sunglasses. By the time I left the big city at the end of 4 weeks, I was happy to see the bus had curtains that could be drawn to block the sun, for I still had no glasses.
The moral dilemma when one passes by these vendors is whether to buy from them or not. There’s really no way of knowing if their products were stolen or where they came from. I would also bet that most are from the Northeast and working under the table is the only way they can provide for their families back home.
When I asked around prior to leaving, rumor had it that the vendors were banned from setting up shop one month earlier. Several months before that, at the end of October, 2011, there was even some protests where another set of street vendors confronted the police after they were banned. In the last few months, there have been more protests, starting when the governor, Gilberto Kassab, recently revoked a 1997 law that gave the vendors TPUs (literally, ‘Terms of Permission of Use’, aka permits). It just so happens that the courts only gave their ruling (against the governor, by the way) at the end of my stay there. You win some, you lose some…
By the way, after a bus ride to Rio, arriving in the bus terminal, I already saw several street vendors. Within one day, I had found the items I was needing, including a nice pair of ‘shades’.