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Vendors’ protest paralyzes traffic in downtown Chapala

A demonstration staged by vendors opposed to the Chapala Malecon renovation project paralyzed traffic in the heart of the municipal seat throughout the morning of Monday, January 27. 

Headaches for motorists en route to the city’s main intersection started around 10 a.m. when a group of about 60 protestors tied to the Sociedad Unica de Comerciantes de Chapala (SUCCH) initiated a march along Avenida Madero. Passing traffic came to screeching halt when the crowd reached the stoplight at Avenida Hidalgo and spread out across the south and east bound lanes of the two principal arteries.

Local transit officers were dispatched to reroute traffic along alternate thoroughfares, but by that time long lines of motor vehicles were already backed up all the way to the primary entrances into the downtown area. The traffic jam finally cleared up around 2 p.m. after Mayor Joaquin Huerta appeared on the scene and agreed to receive a small party of protest representatives in his office. 

The protest group’s leader Humberto Miranda flatly refused to talk with local reporters to explain the vendors’ grievances, mutely shaking his head in response to all questions. He also demanded that the media be excluded from witnessing their audience with the mayor.

Huerta offered a brief statement following the one-hour encounter behind closed doors, revealing that the merchants’ essential beef is the proposed north-south orientation of new sales modules that are to be built in replacement of the existing structures they now occupy. He said he is willing to concede to some minor adjustments as long as the changes don’t interfere with views of the lake that should be visible from Paseo Ramon Corona which runs parallel to the Malecon.

However, city hall insiders whisper of darker motives, suggesting that SUCCH affiliates are not only balking at temporary relocation of their sales outlets while construction work is underway, but also holding out to haggle for what they consider to be prime locations in the new set up.

The mayor and key staff officials have spent the last seven months trying to gain full consensus among the waterfront merchants in order to launch the multimillion peso renewal plan with no hitches from what has long stood out as a powerful local political sector. But so far the strategy to win over all stakeholders hasn’t exactly played out according to plan.

Meanwhile, funding for the first phase of the remodeling work has already been lined up, with the lion’s share to come from state coffers. Bidding processes for constructing the two commercial sections has been completed. And the city government has awarded a contract to build a public events forum to be situated between those sections to the project designer. Yet a few vocal opponents have managed to throw a wrench into a shovel-ready project.

SUCCH is one of the seven deeply divided factions that have emerged to protect the interests of  approximately 300 vendors who ply goods to the tourist trade and local consumers. Many have repeatedly switched affiliation to get in with whatever group seems to be wielding the greatest influence under changing political winds.

At this point SUCCH appears to represent no more ten per cent of the sector, becoming more fractious since long-time leader Gonzalo Gutierrez died suddenly last November. On January 7 the group held a demonstration outside the state government’s headquarters in downtown Guadalajara, claiming to speak for all merchants in a public appeal for Governor Aristotoles Sandoval to ditch the Malecon project outright.

To argue their case, spokesperson Maria Leticia Martinez fed state media reporters with some rather bizarre allegations such as the municipal government’s presumed intention to privatize the Malecon and sell out to Asian entrepreneurs.

It appears that SUCCH representatives didn’t get much mileage from an impromptu meeting with members of the governor’s staff, firing up the scheme for this week’s protest on the home front.

Huerta told reporters that he regretted their decision to inconvenience third parties by blocking traffic, when the dispute only involves city hall officials and fellow merchants. He insists that Malecon project will remain on track, with or without the consent of a minority faction.


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