Vendors in San Salvador

Police raided stands selling pirated goods in San Salvador’s main downtown market, last Friday, and organized street vendors shut down a key downtown intersection in response. Open street violence erupted when police from the Order Maintenance Unit (UMO) dressed in riot gear attacked protesters, resulting in two injuries and 20 arrests. Six businesses burned to the ground when a trailer was lit afire, lost its brakes and crunched into a jewelry shop, setting off a blaze that enveloped neighboring stores.

The police action was designed to dry up the sale of pirated goods across the country. The vendors union is strongest in San Salvador and, if broken, would weaken the resolve of other like-minded groups across the country. High prices and rampant poverty put name-brand clothes, CD’s and DVD’s out of reach for most, but pirated versions flood Central American markets.

Vendors of such goods have become underground heroes and recently joined street protests against CAFTA. Vendors marching in the March 1 anti-CAFTA march carried signs that said, "No to Originals!" US-imposed reforms to Salvadoran law that paved the way for CAFTA criminalized the sale of pirated goods and provided a maximum penalty of six years for anyone caught selling or distributing them.