I could feel the tension in the air – I’ve never felt so much nervous tension anywhere. People crowded around me, each one trying to tell me his or her version of the story. The sad thing was that they were all the same.
We had arrived into Piura by 9:30 in the morning and I headed down to the market to wander around. I had read the newspapers the day before about the rioting. I had read the stories about how the vendors were crazy and were refusing to move into a perfectly good market. I wanted to go there myself.
The market was closed when I got there – all the metal doors rolled down and locked shut. One stall was open – there was a single old man working in there, although it was pretty much emptied out.
“Are you moving to the new market?” I asked him. “Is that why your stall is empty?”
“I’ll never move to that market,” he responded. “There is no way I can move there. I’ve emptied my shop in fear of looters, so now I’m taking advantage of that to clean.”
Within minutes, I was surrounded. Surrounded by vendors who sell clothes or shoes or fans or radios. Vendors that simply want to sell their goods so they can put food on the table for their families.
“We can’t move out there,” they repeated. “We’ll never sell anything!”
“You want to see the new market?” one of the women asked. “I’ll take you out there so you can see where they expect us to go. You want to go?”
My life was getting carried away in directions I never dreamed of. I had no idea what the next six hours would bring.
Twenty minutes later we pulled up to a field in the desert marked off with lines of chalk. “This is it,” the women said. “This is where we are supposed to come to sell.”
“This? Here?” I asked. “But how? This is just a plot of land out in the middle of the desert!”
“Exactly,” they replied. “Look at this! It’s just dirt! There is no electricity or water or bathrooms! There is no floor. Where are we supposed to put our clothes? See how small these plots are? About 1.5 by 2 meters – how can we fit a whole shop of clothes in this tiny space? And who will come here? Who is going to travel 20 minutes into the desert to come to a market where everything is laying in the dirt? How are we going to sell our goods?”
“Please tell our story,” they pleaded. “Somebody has to tell our story. The local press makes us out to be lunatics. They tell everybody that we have a great big beautiful market and that we are crazy. But you see. You are here – you can see this is inadequate. Please tell our story!”
And so – here I am, attempting to tell their story. Mine is a one-sided version of the story only. I’ve talked with the vendors. I tried to talk with the police, but they refused. The mayor was busy in negotiations with the market leaders. But this is the story of a peaceful group of vendors who simply want to put food on the table for their children. A hardworking group of people who have been devastated by the events of the past few days.
- Riots break out in Piura, Peru after government tries to relocate vendors
- Vendors in Piura, Peru blame mayor for starting riots which resulted in six deaths
The vendors rely on selling their goods in the market to put food on the table for their families. This man is selling honey.
A makeshift memorial for one of the dead vendors. Six people were killed in the riots.
Vendors show me where one of their companions was killed.
I was walking with a group of vendors when we approached the police station. All of a sudden, the vendors got very agitated and starting shouting, “You’re criminals and assassins!”
It was 8:30 at night when the attack on Juan’s shop came. He, his son, and his nephew were inside the shop with the door closed. The only door open at the time was the small, bright green door you can see behind him in this photo. The police shot numerous bullets at the shop, and at least two through the small door. Juan’s nephew was shot in the arm and his son is now in a coma in the local hospital.
One of many bullet holes in Juan’s shop. Read the story about the father who thinks the police intended to shoot him that I linked to above.
Juan’s son was shot while working in the shop. His blood is now splattered all over the merchandise.