I am a watermelon junkie. I am a barbadine junkie. I am a sapodilla junkie. I am a plantain, yam, eddoes, cucumber, fresh watercress junkie. Junkie in green fig, sweet potato, cabbage, tomatoes, bodi, biganne, dasheen bush, chowrai bhaji. I take this position not only because these products are good for me, my family, the nation; but as a strategic counter to the gun, drug, money, energy and food cartels which constitute the one-per cent control of the global economy.
A problem has arisen in the Arima Market. The vendors received a letter from the Arima Borough Council a week ago threatening to disallow vendors from trading if they did not pay their outstanding balances for rental of spaces for 2017. This is disturbing. I have been buying at this market for more than thirty years, my home market.
There I took my son, he is now twenty-five, to shop as a child; inculcating him in the ways of trade, choosing, loving this economy, its products. Here are seven points for consideration:
THE COMMONS. Sedeno, Chacon and Abercrombie did not create the Arima Market. The Open Market arose as a free trading commons. This Carib/Arahuacan/First Peoples space was first developed for trading artisanal, and conuco (root, tree, and vegetable) products.
It became an African trading space, when freed women and men left the plantations and began to practice an independent trading economy. Such spaces are prevalent throughout Latin America and Africa. Later these spaces were enriched by East Indians, coming from the lagoons and plains, Caroni and Naparima, selling short crops, bodi, biganne, same, bhaji; and the Chinese for their shop cuisine; and occasionally Syrian itinerant vendors.
OWNERSHIP. The council does not own the market. If this is stated by law this is bad law; and needs to be rectified. Administrative authority does not automatically confer legal ownership. For decades now there has been a tussle between the council and the vendors and farmers over rental for the diminished and diminishing spaces of this open commons. Five dollar per month, three dollar per month; to a recent position: seventy-five dollars per month to be paid into the coffers of the authorities. The problem is that many, if not most, of the vendors and farmers have outstanding 2017 balances.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT. Perhaps the Council is in a financial pickle. Perhaps they mean to tax down on these common spaces. Perhaps the recession has hit the Government so hard, it cannot afford its normal remunerations; and the vendors must now pay. Hence the reason for this threatening letter. Hence the rumour that police might be called in to lock the market to the “indebted” vendors. This approach by the council is not good. For two reasons. First, the vendors have been hit by recession too! Second, if a promised proper system of Local Government now existed, taxes might be drawn from the burgesses: property taxes, paid not into the coffers of Central Government, but into our strapped local authorities.
VALUE FOR MONEY. Vendors and farmers are not vagrants. They should not be treated like jay walkers and refugees. They should not be threatened. They do not sell drugs, guns, and do not tote an abundance of fats, carbohydrates and processed junk which is killing our children daily; and which will incur inordinate health costs in the future. They are dignified people selling ital food. They should not be squeezed out of the Arima and national trading scene. I have witnessed such a squeeze before; when I worked at the University I saw the national and global food bigwigs moved in, under its principal, and the ital local food moved behind the building to the hinterland, unseen, next to the garbage-pickup corner.
WAIVER. Better to meet than to send public officers and police to disallow vendors from using the market. Better to deal with the many contentious matters facing vendors, the burgesses and the council, than to punitively apply sanction. A waiver on outstanding fees might be most practical at this time. Applying strong-arm tactics in this situation is unproductive. The council is there to serve the vendors. Her Worship the Mayor is fortunately a sensitive, discerning, and competent leader.
UPGRADE. Such open air markets should be aesthetically pleasing. A formidable vendors group needs to assume authority and not calmly accept threats or squeeze. It could assist with services which the council in its current state finds it difficult to pay for. Toilets. Sanitisation. Hours of trade. Customer treatment. Smells. Sweeping up. Order and disciplining the slovenly or “wutless” few or the inching trade in drugs.
We need to upgrade our vision of such common spaces, local town and city markets. It must be a place where people are drawn to, visitors, tourists, vulnerable children, men and women. Buy ital. Buy pretty. Buy healthy.