Illegal Vendors in Costa Rica

Without Netflix or Blockbuster or any sort of online rental stores, we have to drive 15 minutes to a store where they carry legitimate DVDs (“100 % Original,” reads the store front), not pirated DVDs as in most rental stores in Costa Rica. It’s pretty shameless how prevalent illegal stores carrying pirated DVDs are. I walked into a store and you can immediately notice that the covers are print-images off the internet and are poorly packaged, the DVDs themselves sometimes lacking image labels. Whether a DVD is legitimate or pirated matter to strange people like me, and it’s relieving to read about San José Mayor Johnny Araya and the Municipal Police waging war against pirated CDs & DVDs, but maybe it is, as the article suggests, a pointless war and one could definitely argue their war would deprive thousands of a stable source of income earned by duping people who can’t recognize the difference between legitimate and pirated discs.

The last few paragraph of the article reads:

Though Solano is hopeful, it seems his optimism to slow pirated sales might be misplaced.

On Tuesday morning, a group of street vendors promoted their DVDs and CDs to pedestrians in downtown San José. At the sight of a police officer, one of the vendors shouted to warn the others. Within seconds, the vendors had scooped up their merchandise into their mobile carrying rugs. As one vendor prepared to scurry off, he told customers to be patient.

“Come back at one o’clock,” he said. “We’ll be back here then.”

I was at Teatro Nacional downtown today to catch a jazz performance (more about Teatro Nacional later, which has become one of my favorite places in San Jose) and this is exactly what happens. A group of unauthorized vendors selling mangos and kids’ notebooks scurried away when a group of policemen, standing on top of a truck not unlike Japanese politicians with megaphones doing local campaigning, passed by and shouted at them. As soon as the policemen had gone, the vendors came back to the same spot and carried on with their rhythmic, routine chanting (something that sounded like “these mango, mango, mangos are de-licious!”) as if nothing had happened.

The crackdown on these illegal vendors might actually have a reverse impact, I think, since when you corner desperate low-income class to force them out of business on which their lives depend, they’ll most likely resist with force. And surely enough a blog reports, “the municipal policemen trying to enforce the law have been seriously injured when trying to remove vendors.” In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell argues that epidemics can be prevented by simple and straightforward changes. His argument was under dispute when he and the famed economist Stephen Levitt had a public debate (Gladwell argues NY’s crime epidemic fell in the 80’s due to small changes such as scrubbing off graffitis and arresting fare-beaters, whereas Levitt argues that a decrease in the number of unwanted children as a result of Roe v. Wade is responsible for the sudden decrease in NY’s crime), but assuming Mr. Gladwell’s argument is valid, then there must be a far more effective alternative solution to the illegal vendor epidemic in Costa Rica.

P.S. I tried to google and find a video of Levitt and Gladwell’s debate with no luck unfortunately.

This entry was posted in Costa Rica ('09-'12), Travels. Bookmark the permalink.

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