PORT-AU-PRINCE – Women selling shoes, clothes and cosmetics in the streets of Petion-Ville were attacked yesterday morning by a group of men who tore down their market stands and chased them with large rocks.
Tires burned in the streets and many of the targeted women fled the city with their unsold products, their only source of income.
Cenoze Actilien said she fled to a side street in Petion-Ville to continue selling produce. She watched as men threw rocks at cars driving by the vendors and as women ran from the area.
“We’re ready to move, but we don’t have a market,” she said. “This is how I make my money.”
The attack was a stronger warning and scare tactic to force street vendors out of the city, said Claire Lydie Parent, the mayor of Petion-Ville.
“We’ve asked them to move for more than three months,” said Parent, who denied involvement with the attack. “We rebuilt a marketplace for merchants and now the streets must be clean.”
Petion-Ville became a haven after the earthquake for residents from nearby cities who fled from fear of tsunamis, Parent said. Instead of returning home, the city became crowded with tent cities filled with evacuees who sell goods in the streets for income.
Crime also increased with the presence of street vendors as thieves target the women and their customers. People also illegally charge women to sell their products in certain areas.
“It’s a shame to see these streets now,” Parent said.
One of her earthquake recovery initiatives includes cleaning the streets with the Center of National Equipment and others who remove garbage, a percentage of which is left behind by street vendors.
The process has been grueling, including multiple days of working more than 24 hours.
Parent, who worked nearly 24 hours cleaning streets yesterday, said the majority of the men were protesting in interests of keeping the streets clean. But others who joined used the opportunity to cause havoc in attempt to steal products.
The alternative for merchants would be a marketplace that was rebuilt with funds from USAID. The facility is already filled to capacity with Petion Ville merchants, but the city has designated areas where all merchants are free to run their business.
But the vendors must register their business and they’re restricted to the identified areas, Parent said.
One of the designated areas is a street in front of Jules Vincent Wilkenson’s home in Petion-Ville. Wilkenson said he heard the protests and attacks around 6 a.m. and watched as men later threw large stones on the sidewalk to prevent women from returning.
“This is no good,” he said. “These people have no where else to go.”
He was outside of his gate with a cigarette in hand speaking with women who were in search of new locations to sell their goods. He shook his head and paced back and forth as he said his neighborhood would never be the same.
“There will be a mess around here for now on,” he said. “We can’t say anything. If we do, they’ll take us to jail.”
A few feet away from his home is an abandoned building – that the mayor plans to demolish- where thieves hideout after committing crimes. Reluctantly, he helped a few women with identifying prime locations.
Most women are relocating, but they’re prepared to stand they’re ground if another incident occurs, Actilien said.
“If they mayor tries to kick us out, we’ll protest at the President’s house,” she said. “We didn’t vote for this.”
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