Dili – National police in East Timor, one of the poorest countries in Asia, are being criticized for a crackdown on snack vendors working a lucrative part of the capital, Dili. No laws ban the sales across from the Palacio do Governo, or Government Palace, and the police are targeting poor people just trying to make ends meet, politicians and vendors complained.
Until two days ago, dozens of small carts loaded with drinks and snacks were stationed across from the government offices in a picnic area under shade trees that sits on the sea. On evenings and weekends, the picnic tables in one of the most popular public areas in Dili are usually jammed with couples and families, and business for vendors boomed there.
But on Saturday, only one cart dared show up for fear of the police.
“They chased me away a few days ago, but I have come back,” said Tios Sila. As the sole vendor, Sila was doing a brisk business in soft drinks, biscuits and cigarettes.
In East Timor, unemployment hangs around 60 per cent, and most people make less than 1 dollar per day. Sila said he could make 5 to 10 dollars from the crowds in front of the Palacio do Governo. He said he couldn’t make that much anywhere else in the city.
Jose Texeira, a member of East Timor’s Parliament, said he was unaware of any law prohibiting the carts.
“I don’t care if there’s a law or not,” he said. “The fact is they have just started doing this without telling anyone. It’s nonsense, cracking down on people who just want to make a living.”
Acting commander of the national police, Alfonso de Jesus, said no law had been passed but, nonetheless, he ordered his officers to shoo away the vendors last week after government workers complained to him about traffic congestion in front of their offices.
Police patrolling the area said they have not yet arrested anyone but if they saw any snack carts, they would ask them to move elsewhere.
“This isn’t government property,” Sila said. “Lots of people come here. If you want to sell anything, you have got to find a place that’s popular.”