After years of friction with the local authorities, Barcelona’s street salesmen – manteros - might finally be able to sell goods in peace. That’s the idea of a new enterprise which would see the creation of a special bazar with 60 stalls run by the members of an association of manteros. Instead of imitation Nike shirts or Dolce Gabbana shades, however, the stall-owners would offer ’mercancía legal’; ie. arts and crafts, jewellery, African textiles, recycled goods, outlet fashion and food.
The project has been simmering for over a year now as the Ajuntament searches for a suitable location for this ‘market of socio-economic integration’. Two spots in Montjuic are under consideration; one beside Ciutat del Teatre in Plaça Margarida Xirgu, and the other in front of the Fundació Mies van der Rohe. Other options include Parc del Maresme and Parc de l’Espanya Industrial in Sants or an itinerant bazar moving between different points of the city.
The creation of Diomcoop, a cooperative formed by ex-manteros and assisted by the Fundació Formació I Treball and Ajuntament de Barcelona, would ensure each stall-owner has their papers regularized.
Not every mantero, of course, will be able to, or even wish to, subscribe to such an association. The black market trade is just too lucrative, and however much the cooperative grows, it won’t be possible to admit every one of the hundreds of manteros operating in the city.
Nevertheless, an allocation of €800,000 for the project speaks volumes of Ada Colau’s determination to save face and provide a third way, a new commercial platform for non-documented foreign nationals residing in Barcelona.
Tensions have been growing for years between a city council keen to preserve a certain public image and manteros whose livelihood is at risk. Though publicly expressing sympathy for the manteros' plight, the Alcaldesa has often deployed a strong police presence to dissuade them from their commercial activities in Barcelona's main pedestrian hubs.
In 2015, a dispute between the manteros and the Guardia Urbana broke out in a full-scale, city centre pedrera - a rock-throwing battle in which four police agents and a bystander were injured. In March of last year there were angry demonstrations following the strategic deployment of huge numbers of Guardia Urbana in Plaça Catalunya and the port, which reduced mantero presence by 60%. Feeling themselves unfairly discriminated against, the manteros threw up a defiant, and very successful, mercadillo rebelde – rebel minimarket - on parts of Las Ramblas, defying police opposition for several days. And in December demonstrators descended on Congress to demand the decriminalization of itinerant trade, following the incarcelation of four Senegalese accused of running a product falsification business.
In November 2016, Moustapha Ndao, a 37-year old, Senegalese mantero, made an appeal to even higher powers. He was invited to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francisco as part of an event called the World Meeting of Popular Movements. Acting as a representative of the Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes de Barcelona, Ndao gave a simple address to the Pope and the assembly:
‘Hello, my name is Moustapha Ndao. I came to Europe in a dinghy. In order to survive I make a living as a street vendor. The law is very hard on us, getting our documents in order is very difficult and without those documents you cannot work, you have to live in the street. We want to live in Europe with dignity, we want the right that every person has to be free.’
If this new enterprise comes to fruition, then he, and many others like him, might finally be able to enjoy that right without giving up what they do for a living, with belated help from an Ajuntament which has for too long simply tried to brush them under the carpet.
To read more about Barcelona's manteros and their troubles click here: