The Case of the “Small Man”

One of the things that I cannot help but notice in T&T is the entrepreneurial spirit of the “small man.”

His rickety tray, stall or cart is located along the pavement (or in the middle of, depending on the street) or at the side of the road and offers a variety of abundant, cheap, low quality (often counterfeit) items. You name it, the “small man” sells it – food and beverage, clothing, accessories, entertainment (music cds and movie dvds).  Indeed, few of us of can deny giving the “small man” a sale at one time or another (some of us may claim necessity more than others, nuts anyone?).

As the trade is largely unregulated by the State, it flourishes. Vendors and hucksters usually do not pay any rent to occupy public “space” (although some may be bold enough to place chains and padlocks to secure their set up) or do they have licenses to sell goods of a particular kind (few food and drink vendors have the requisite health badges, but why should they when they don’t even have running water / bathroom facilities? and even fewer purveyors of musical cds with local content have the approval of COTT, our very own copyright group).

The “small man” may face the occasional pressure when the State “ketches a vaps” and decides to clean up the city, borough, town. We all have heard of the clashes between the highway-bound or market-place vendors and the authorities, sound-bites of which go along the lines of “De government and dem always against de small man, always oppressin’ we!”

This Carnival season we heard tales of crack-downs on the cd and dvd vendor/pirate. Stalls that were passed by on a daily basis by our local police now found themselves to be targets. Rather than give up the trade on which they were so dependent, many of these vendors took to quickly shifting their mobile units (stalls with wheels fleeing like bats out of hell) throughout the streets in an effort to evade the authorities.  

The uproar over the plight of the displaced cd/dvd seller (they must have a lot of those vendors, or many loyal customers) stimulated much debate over ways to “legalise” the trade, that is, get the pirates to pay the necessary licenses.  A mid-February article from the Newsday estimates that there are 5000 vendors of movie dvds and music cds on the streets, 40 of whom actually had licenses (Read the full article here http://www.newsday.co.tt/business/0,73309.html).

Just a few days later the local news reported on the death of a woman who went to purchase dvds from POS vendor and got caught by gunfire intended for him (Read the full article here http://70.86.108.178/archives/2008-02-17/news14.html ). 

The vendor who was injured has been quoted as saying that he did not know why he had been targeted: “How I could owe anybody anything? I selling DVDs. I not selling drugs. There is nothing illegal in that. I sell DVDs, it have money in that. How I go be owing people? The only people I owe are my workers and that is because I am in hospital,” said Ollivierre.  (Read the full article here http://www.trinidadexpress.com/index.pl/article_news?id=161282328).

 

The dvd vending trade continued in the aftermath of the shooting: “The Express tried to speak with some of the vendors yesterday, but only one of them agreed. He said, “Listen, man coming in your house looking to shoot you. If people want to go around the place trying to kill each other that don’t bother me. I have to make a dollar out here.” (Read the full article here http://www.trinidadexpress.com/index.pl/article_news?id=161280147)

Late November 2007, following the murder of two dvd sellers, The Trinidad Guardian featured an article that talked about the so-called boom in the dvd trade and the “turf war” that was taking place amongst the vendor population (Read the full article here http://www.guardian.co.tt/archives/2007-11-27/features1.html. That same article also offered advice as to how to determine the quality of a pirated dvd…). 

Certainly when the travel guides refer to the vibrant night and street life of Trinidad, this is not what they were referring to.

Mango

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N.B. The term “small man” is used here to collectively to refer to both male and female vendors  (Afro / Indo / Mixed Trinbagonians) from the lower socio-economic bracket, who engage in unregulated trade (i.e. trade not officially sanctioned by the State).

 

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~ by mangoandmosquitoblog on February 25, 2008.

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