Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crushed by poverty, Yucatán style: The crime of not letting someone work

Many tourists, even many expats who live here full or part time, would be astounded by the endemic poverty which exists in the state of Yucatán. We're but a half day's drive from the magnificent Mexican Riviera Maya, from famous resorts like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Isla Mujeres, where money is lavishly spent without the slightest awareness of how most people in this region struggle daily.

A Mexican national institute recently reported that almost half the population of the Yucatán - 47.9%, to be exact - lives at or below the official government poverty line. Of those, 191,000 live in the most dire conditions of poverty -- they are the poorest of the poor. Poverty in Yucatán has increased significantly since 2008. During roughly the same time frame, the Yucatán's state indebtedness increased dramatically, from $25 million USD in 2007 to an estimated $750 million USD today. It doesn't appear that much of that huge increase in public debt was the result of efforts to eradicate or even reduce severe poverty in the countryside.

Now the municipal government of Mérida has dealt this voiceless minority another blow. Itinerant merchants and vendors - ubiquitous throughout Mexico, and very much a part of Mexico's cultural charm in the eyes of most visitors - have been kicked out of the city's main plaza. The city says this it wants to "clean things up." The vendors - and the cottage industry workers in small villages who produce the wares they sell -- are suffering greatly. Last week Mérida's main newspaper, El Diario de la Yucatán, reported that some city inspectors and enforcement personnel have been demanding payoffs from lingering street merchants to "overlook" their violations. The city has not responded to the allegations.

Nov. 30, 2011 - Mérida's battle of the merchants

[Top photo: "Waiting," © Edward V. Byrne 2011. Bottom photo: children of itinerants. "We're artists, not vendors."]


  1. On the other hand, there were far too many sellers in the centre of Merida, making it impossible to sit and have a quiet drink or meal in any restaurant that didn't have an enclosed courtyard. After the tenth time I had been offered bags, hammocks, cigars, fans, hats, blouses, wraps, belts, silver while still on my first course, I ended up leaving without finishing my meal. I believe it would be enough to forbid them to disturb you at a restaurant table, and leave the main plaza alone. They are truly part of the charm of Merida there.

  2. Have you considered simply leaving town?