Isbel Diaz Torres
Last Saturday I went to the Lisa Special Government Agricultural Market to buy vegetables. I got there exactly at the moment some inspectors were detecting several violations in the sales stands.
At the stand where I got in line, they discovered that the radishes, which should have been selling for two pesos a pound, were going for three. They had even changed the price up on the board. The same thing happened with some bottles of vinegar whose true price was 18 pesos, but they were selling them for 20.
In addition to the changed prices, they were offering carrots (very small ones on this occasion) with long branches of stems. Since the price was by weight, almost 70 percent of what they were charging the public was for the stems, violating the directive to remove those parts that can’t be eaten. Another clerk couldn’t explain what had happened to the papaya, which were on his log of products for sale.
As almost always happens, the clerks tried to shift the blame, accusing some absent boss. But their excuses were futile; the inspectors were severe and serious in their work. They didn’t accept the excuses for why they were stealing from people.
One of the problems was that none of the clerks at that stand worked there officially. They didn’t have the documents that authorized them and they were unable to respond to the simplest questions.
The exasperation in their faces was evident. For a while they tried to ignore the inspectors, they refused to present their identification documents, and their body language demonstrated the potential for violence about to be expressed. Nonetheless, the postures of the female inspectors showed no sign of fright (something that filled me with pride in them) and they became even stricter.
Now, what truly impacted me in what happened was that I participated of a completely public process. As they went finding the violations they remarked about these to the shoppers present. At the same time they demanded the clerks to continue with their sales activities. We know there are times when these inspections turn their backs on the public and that they are sometimes involved in graft.
This time that was not the case, fortunately. This allowed people to express their dissatisfaction freely, without disturbances or violence. People could see how the prices were immediately corrected and they were somehow part of the process of struggling against corruption.
Sure, I’m not so blind as to be unaware of the fact that the most corrupt processes aren’t carried out in the farmers markets, nor are they carried out primarily by people whose hands are caked with earth. Those “big scores” are made by very clean and perfumed people with skin faded from so much conditioning and who rarely ride on buses. They engage in schemes with all the stamps and signatures of the law, and they concentrate in the hands of a few the wealth of us all.
In any case, I felt pleased. Nevertheless, when I was leaving I stopped at the spice stand. There, a saleswoman commented: “They’re just getting going. Now they’re coming over here.” To which the other salesperson responded “I’m free of sin…” She then looked at her list of produce and corrected herself, “I only have to take the tomato paste off my board.”