LIMA – Gamarra, the heart of Peru’s garment industry, was sealed off before dawn Monday by a police operation combating unlicensed commerce and racketeering.
The operation kicked off under orders of the mayor of Lima’s La Victoria district, George Forsyth, a retired soccer pro who, after taking office early this year, launched a merciless war against the many unregulated, untaxed businesses in the area.
Roughly 2,000 police took control of access to the garment district, blocked 14 of its 19 entrances and started confiscating merchandise from the small army of street vendors, while suspending classes at the seven schools in the area.
Also closed down was the Lima subway station that serves Gamarra.
Authorities plan to keep the area under lockdown for 72 hours.
In a statement to the daily El Comercio, Forsyth said the closure of the district is aimed at reforming and recovering public land. He also recalled that the municipal ordinance that bans street vending was made public more than two weeks ago, and for that reason “the day has come to take action.”
“Business owners and executives must now make a commitment to change their ways, because if Gamarra got into this mess, it’s because they allowed it to happen. We’re going to recover the public spaces with painting, traffic signals, planting trees. We’re washing it down and cleaning it up. These are some very intense days and we’re all getting ready to do whatever it takes,” the mayor said.
Gamarra hosts in just 24 blocks more than 24,000 stores and workshops dedicated in their immense majority to the garment industry.
The district, which receives thousands of shoppers every day, also has thousands of peddlers doing business on the streets, blocking access and holding up traffic.
These peddlers pay no taxes and in many cases report to criminal outfits that control the distribution of merchandise.
Forsyth had no sooner become head of the municipal government than he launched a campaign to restore order in the area. To do so, among other measures, he fired most of the cops in the district, accusing them of letting street vendors set up shop, turning a blind eye to their failure to comply with city regulations, and taking bribes from the local crime bosses.
Soon afterwards, Forsyth, married to the popular Peruvian actress Vanessa Terkes, started receiving death threats, but he also won the support of the national government and the media for the way he dealt with corruption.